MamaBlogger365 – Holiday “Check-Up”: Tips for a Stress-Free Season by Lowry Manders

We’re grateful to Lowry Manders for the gift of her special every-Friday holiday series! Read on to make the most of this time of year with your family!

Time for your Holiday “Check-Up”! Are you surviving? Are your children surviving? Does it feel like:

a) The most “wonderful” time of the year? (Are you just GLOWING in the magic and wonder and Christmas lights, the warmth of family and friends? Good for you.)

b) The most stressful, chaotic time of the year? (Is the extra pressure causing you to get a little “Grinch-y”, snapping at your children and loved ones?) or is it…

c) The most depressing time of the year for you? (Does all the cheer and jolliness just accentuate some loss or broken relationship, some wounded, empty place in your heart?)

My guess is, your answer might be: d) all of the above. It’s normal to experience some combination of these emotions, depending on the day, on they year, on your sleep status, on your cycle! During the holiday season, it strikes me that our society bombards us with an impossible juxtaposition of expectations, especially if you are a mom. We are expected to provide and create Norman Rockwell-like meaningful moments with our loved ones, especially our children, in an effort to achieve option “a”, even while checking off an enormous to-do list amidst the “hustle and bustle”. Or do we expect this of ourselves?

Once again, I invite you to pause and reflect on what is right and best for your children, your family, and YOURSELF. I think the holiday season is the most difficult but important time to slow down and “just BE” with our children. Here are some tips for maintaining your healthy spirit and a spirit of connection in your family, while still enjoying the spirit of the holidays! (It won’t be stress-free, but it can be low-stress.)

1. Be intentional about the activities you add to your schedule – will they provide connection or exhaustion for your family? One Saturday last December, MJ (3) expressed, in between attending the downtown Christmas parade and a performance of “The Nutcracker”, that he wanted some time to be at home, moving beads around the Christmas tree. A good reminder for me to keep it simple! Lesson for this year: no more than one special activity or outing per day. (Last year, the following Saturday, we stayed home and happily raked leaves all day as a family!)

2. Be intentional about the tasks you add to your to-do list: will they be a source of joy or frustration? What values will they teach? What priorities do they reflect? Home-made fruitcakes or Target cards for the teachers? Take some things off of the list! This year, I’ve decided to take Christmas cards off mine! (But feel free to send them to me 🙂 I’ll “post” one for all to see!) I never have a big shopping list, as our family just doesn’t do many gifts. We do “intentional gifts” like time together with friends and family, and charitable giving in honor of others. And whatever shopping is left, we do online. (Reminder: you can order ALL your Amazon gifts through my website to help me out a little bit, no extra cost to you! Thanks.)

3. Don’t forget the down-time! As you plan, remember that our children sense, reflect, mirror, and internalize our stress, and the stress of those around them. They also need down-time to “process” all the stimulation! Because of this, down-time, quiet snuggle time, reading time, playtime with you and at home is even more important to their well-being and the well-being of your family in December. Besides, you never know what “good things” will happen during the down-time. During our down-time this weekend, MJ discovered in one of his kitchen “science experiments” that marshmallows take at least 3 days to dissolve in water (or until Mommy dumps them out), and Ellie enjoyed making designs with her holiday window decorations. Just remember the mantra: Play, Laugh, Sing, Read, Listen, Hug, not “Shop, Wait, Buy, Drive, Drive, Drive“.

Ellie loves to arrange the holiday window gels / © Lowry Manders, all rights reserved.

4. Put some holiday rituals into your routine with the kids. I shared with you some of the holiday rituals my family enjoys: simple traditions that connect us as a family, everyday things you can do to create meaningful moments in your daily routine this time of year (our family holiday rituals).

5. Claim some rituals for yourself! Do you have special ways of connecting with and nurturing your own “spirit” at the holidays? Things you did before the kids came along and changed everything? I like to start the season by going to the Perkins Lessons and Carols service, feeding my spirit with the most beautiful Christmas music in town! (I grew up going with my parents who attended SMU and used to sing in Seminary Singers. And then, I got my Masters of Sacred Music from Perkins, getting the chance to lead and sing in worship for several years there.) I always leave feeling refreshed and re-connected. Dustin and I like to go on a date to Patrizio’s in HP Village at some point during the holidays, surrounded by all the pretty lights, a tradition we started before we got married. I enjoy slowing down during the season to quietly read by the Christmas tree, or just sit and gaze, while listening to Jim Brickman’s Christmas album, Peace. And to help me “Breathe” when things start to feel stressful, I am always calmed and soothed by Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven” on her Christmas Album: “Breath of heaven, hold me together, be forever near me, breath of heaven.”

Ellie shows off her Christmas shiner, 2010 / © Lowry Manders, all rights reserved.

6. Finally, don’t expect your holidays to be Picture PERFECT! It won’t be all “rain-drops on roses and whiskers on kittens.” Your kids will misbehave, you and your spouse will argue, and if you’re like me, you won’t always be the perfect June Cleaver-angel-Mommy yourself! (If they don’t… if you don’t… if you are…. then….DON’T TELL THE REST OF US!) Let go of the “Norman Rockwell” vision for your holidays, and let them be what they will be. (This is a really hard one for me.) Your tot might yank her stocking, bringing the heavy metal star stocking-holder down onto her eye, giving her a shiner for Christmas! (Just one of my “Duh” Mommy moments! Go ahead, learn from my many mistakes! And Don’t forget to make a donation to my blog at the bottom of the page for all the trouble and injuries I’ve saved you! 😉 )

"Shepherd Boy" MJ, 2009 / © Lowry Manders, all rights reserved.

You might thoughtfully, lovingly plan a special activity or outing for your family, not realizing that this is the day your 2 1/2 -year-old daughter has decided to sabotage all your plans with her “glowing” personality… Your whole family may get sick, and not only do you miss the Christmas Eve service, but the kids are vomiting by the toilet on Christmas morning instead of opening gifts by the tree. (Sound familiar, Kristie?) Breathe deeply – there is power in acceptance. “The moment is as it is.” Your baby may have you up half the night on Christmas Eve, ruining your “cheery” spirit for the rest of your family on Christmas Day. “The moment is as it is.” Your little “shepherd” may throw his staff at Mary in the pageant. (This did not happen with my little shepherd, though it probably would have if Ellie had been playing “Mary.”) “The moment is as it is.” I-35 might be shut down to one lane with two fussing tots in the backseat on the way to grandma’s house. AAAAAAGH! Breathe deeply… ”The moment is as it is.”

There will be good moments. They may not happen because you planned them, they may come when you least expect it, but they will come. (Like Gabriel came to Mary! Like over-hearing MJ and Ellie singing Christmas songs to each other, like seeing MJ act out the Nativity story as he plays with the Nativity set. Like Ellie reaching over to hold my hand as we’re reading “The Very Special Baby”. Like MJ signing “I love you” to me as he drinks his hot cocoa.) Hold on to these moments, and cherish them – when you slow down and “live in the moment”, you might just discover that joy and wonder and miracles surround you. Or as my favorite holiday movie states, “Love is Actually…all around!”

{Readers, please pass this on to your friends via Facebook or e-mail! Let them know about my helpful series on “How to Connect with your Kids at Christmas” – my intentional gift to all of you! I hope it helps you enjoy your holidays…}

Bio: Says Lowry Manders, “I am a parent and music teacher, a teacher of parents, a child development nerd and lifelong learner, a singer and wanna-be-writer, and now, I’m trying to be a blogger! I feel I have valuable ideas to share, funny stories from my own parenting adventures, and hopefully, thoughtful reflections that will speak to YOU as a struggling mommy, because we’re all in this together! As a teacher, my mission is helping families to MAKE CONNECTIONS: connections in little growing brains and emotional connections that will last a lifetime, giving young children the foundations they need to achieve their full potential, even while creating more meaningful moments for parents with their kids. I created “Parent with Purpose” classes to share practical and inspirational ideas with fellow sojourners on this important path. Click on my website mommymanders.com to get some great parenting tips, and download some of my helpful hand-outs. Since I am also a Kindermusik teacher, I believe that music is the most powerful tool for making these connections (and research proves it), so, of course, my own parenting style is pretty much Maria Von Trapp meets Mr. Rogers.”

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