Most of us aspire to give our kids a fairy-tale holiday. After all, there's nothing quite like seeing our child's face shining with joy.
But there's often a deeper fantasy driving us at this time of year. On some level, we hope that a picture-perfect holiday will help make up for those times when we haven't been ideal parents.
And maybe we even yearn for the perfect holiday to somehow repair those experiences that left us lonely or hurting from our own childhoods.
Like most unconscious needs, this one fuels a fierce frenzy of activity and drama that's destined to fail.
We can heal the past, but not by frosting it over with a fantasy holiday for our kids. Yes, the holidays can be a magical time, and there's nothing wrong with aspiring to create that. Yes, it is healing to give love to our children. And yes, the more we love, the more we heal ourselves.
But it's definitely not healing to stay up around the clock buying, decorating, cooking, stressing, gritting our teeth and forcing our family into something that may look good on Instagram, but feels awful because we're wound way too tight.
Our fantasy of the perfect family holiday can drive us to do more, more, more. But more of what we didn't need to begin with can't fill those deep longings. There's a better way.
1. Acknowledge your own deep longings.
It's ok, we all have them. Tell yourself that you deserve that big love, and that you're going to get it by giving it to yourself. Not with superficial trimmings, but inside your own heart, with real self-acceptance and self-appreciation. Fill your cup with self-nurture of all kinds, and remember there's no substitute for looking in the mirror and pouring love into your own hungry heart. No, that's not silly, or selfish. It's the key to unconditional love. If you can't love and forgive yourself, you can't let love in from others. That dooms you to trying to "get" others to love you, which is a losing proposition. And if you don't love yourself, how can you love your child unconditionally?
2. Ditch the Guilt.
Don't feel guilty about that present you can't afford for your child this year. That's not what your child needs to be happy. Presents can be wonderful, but they aren't real love, they can't buy you love, and they don't actually help your child feel loved on a deep level.
And don't worry, you don't have to make up for not being a perfect parent. No one is. You're modeling how to be a graciously imperfect human, and how to apologize and repair, which is what your child needs to grow into a gracious human herself. Just resolve to keep choosing love as often as possible when you're interacting with your child, so your ratio of good to bad moments keeps improving. That shifts you in a positive direction, and eventually into a whole new landscape. That's all anyone can do, and it really is enough.
3. Give your child something better than fantasy.
Instead of the focus on material things that can never be enough, slow down and focus with your child on connection and meaning. Kids spell LOVE with the letters TIME. Pouring your adoring presence into your child as you share a holiday tradition will do more to fill their cup than a mountain of presents. The tradition can be as complicated as making a gingerbread house or as simple as looking at the Hanukkah candles or Christmas lights together in silence. Just turn off your phone and be fully present. Your child will remember this time with you for the rest of their life.
4. Do some healing.
It is possible to heal our own childhoods. We start by acknowledging our wounds and understanding that whatever happened was information about them, not about us. We grieve the perfect childhood we didn't get, and we love ourselves back to health. The key is to notice the feelings, acknowledge them -- and resist acting on them. In other words, when you start to get uncomfortable, don't pull out your phone or look for a snack. Don't snap at your child or partner. Just notice the uncomfortable sensation in your body. Breathe into it. Fill yourself with love.
This is like peeling an onion -- there may be tears. But every time you accept your emotions, they begin to loosen and evaporate. You're bringing light to those old shadows. Watch them melt away. Over time, you'll notice that your life has less drama, and more love. (For more support in this process, don't miss my Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Online Course. It makes a perfect stocking stuffer.)
5. Let life be more than enough, just as it is.
Give yourself permission to let go of perfect. Perfect just gets in the way of love. Real parents get reality holidays, complete with cranky kids, messy kitchens, and moments that move you to tears. Remember that joy comes from appreciating the wonder in all those miraculous moments that are disguised as everyday life.
The key is letting go of your need to be perfect and offering emotional generosity every chance you get, to everyone around you -- including yourself.
You don't need to create a perfect holiday. Because you're already more than enough, just as you are.