A Perfectly Imperfect Holiday Season
By Christine Hennessy, Director of Training and Special Initiatives
En Español 

There are so many things that make the holiday season magical for me. I love watching my sons as they get older, but still stay just as excited about Santa, Chippy (our Elf-on-the-shelf), and choosing gifts for others. The creativity and imagination that we share as we plan holiday activities and games encourages me and makes me excited and optimistic about all that their futures might hold.
There is a duality that exists, though, within the holiday magic. As the days shorten and Christmas music begins to play, my excitement gets overtaken by stress: full schedules, stretching the budget, and all of the planning overwhelms me. As a mom, these lofty expectations have a growing control over almost every aspect of the holidays. My festive and ambitious December mindset convinces me that despite all we have to do- it is still not enough. By the time we welcome a new year, I find myself reflecting on not only how great the holiday season was, but also how great our need to simplify it is. I’m left questioning why I’m allowing these impossible expectations to define our holidays year after year.
“Mindfulness” is something that I hear about often during the holiday season, and my reflexive response to it usually includes an eye roll. It’s so important but seemingly impossible. I’ve tried and failed for years. How can I practice “mindfulness” when my mind is already so full of expectations and traditions? To better understand what I’m missing, I looked up the definition. The Oxford Dictionaries defines mindfulness as: “The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something; a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” Staying calm, focusing on the present, AND recognizing my feelings- all while also parenting through the holidays- is too much; however, I’m challenging myself to reframe how I act and react this holiday season. Here is my plan:
  1. Identify the barriers that keep me from enjoyment and mindfulness during the holiday season, and act on them. It’s easy to set limits for my sons, but it’s hard to do for myself. I love social gatherings and don’t like to turn down anything that sounds fun. Too many plans on top of a full week of work leaves too little time to take care of all of the other things that life requires. Gatherings and events would be so much more enjoyable for all of us if I am intentional about prioritizing a realistic amount of time for all of the basic tasks and errands that need to happen each week.
  2. Prioritize Self Care. I may not have time to get away to a cabin in the woods, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot take time for myself. A few minutes in my “cozy corner” with my coffee and plants is often enough. If I can be still for a few moments at the beginning of my day, my mind will be clearer and I will be better equipped to set priorities and keep my focus. Being mindful of where I focus my energy will help me direct my time and conquer my mountains.
  3. Remember who I am and be the person I know that I can be.  It’s easy for me to see who my sons are meant to be and encourage them to live up to that expectation. I use the term “gentlemen” quite frequently when addressing them. I believe that I have the privilege and responsibility to raise men and not boys, and so they must hear and know who they are and who they can be: “gentle” men. Parenting by example is so much more impactful than words could ever be, though, so I must remember who I am and live that out for my boys to see. If I hope for mindfulness and desire calm during the whirlwind holiday season around me, then I must remember to live that out as I choose to act calmly. When I feel lost or unsettled, I will look for the disruption, address the problem, and reset myself.
  4. Give and receive grace well and often. I must give grace to others when the expectations I have of them are not met. When the impossible expectations surface and I find myself overreacting, I must remember that perfection is impossible for anyone. How can I learn from my mistakes if I do not first accept that as imperfect humans, we’re all going to make them (myself included)? I need to remember to give myself grace, too. When my responses include grace, my focus can shift, and I can reframe my thoughts.
Mindfulness may not come naturally to me, but I am okay being a work in progress. I will use this plan to become more self-aware, work on having a more peaceful reaction to stress, and give grace even in the hardest of times. I want to focus on relationships over unnecessary tasks. I hope that the holiday memories I cherish most will guide me towards a mindful and peaceful holiday season this year and in years to come.
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