We are still in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas; our Christmas tree is still up, gifts are still being exchanged as we do a smattering of small things at different points during the twelve holy nights; and since today is New Year’s Day I have a big pot of Hoppin’ John simmering away on the stove like any good Southerner. Happy 2013 to all of you; may you all have many blessings this year! May this be a year of grace, courage and steadiness for you!
I have heard from so many of you via email asking questions about holiday traditions and also about what to do with family who has different ideas regarding the holiday traditions and parenting.
Traditions are a wonderful thing and can be layered in over time as your children grow. Instead of looking for the external things outside the home (outside of a place of worship that is important to you during the holiday season!), look at how you can build things within your own family, your own home and within your own neighborhood. I think there are many posts on this blog regarding how to celebrate Advent, St. Nicholas Day, Santa Lucia, the twelve holy nights and Christmastide and Epiphany. I am Christian, and therefore, I don’t feel qualified to write about the holidays from any other perspective, but there are certainly many blogs out there who do write about such matters, so I always encourage my readers to search out and use what resonates and works for them as a family. You are the expert on your own family! Have that courage and confidence to create your own family culture, your own traditions and don’t worry if it doesn’t look like anyone else’s! I enjoyed Melisa Nielsen’s post on this very topic here: http://waldorfessentials.com/blog/2012/12/traditions-my-own-inner-christmas/
As you work toward creating this, please do be sure to include acts of service for neighbors and including those in your community who are alone. That is such a lovely things for this time of year.
We can also plan how to adjust things, how to layer traditions in for the future celebrations. Several days ago, I sat down with a December 2013 calendar and penciled in a few things based upon how I was feeling when Christmas Day was completed. I penciled in the things we always do that are outside of the home, reminded myself of what day I wanted to start telling stories about St. Nicholas and Santa Lucia, reminded myself that I have the control to “X” out whole days to be home during the holidays—and I put it all on the calendar. This calendar, done so many months out and away from next Christmas, won’t be a finality, but it will give me somewhere to start in planning whilst my mind is still in that holiday place.
I am also making a concerted effort to try to do some crafting with friends a few times within the next weeks and to make things that are holiday oriented that I wish I had had time to make this year! I wanted to make a felt portraiture of Santa Lucia (how long that has been on my list!), so I could display it during Advent as we walk with the Saints. I wanted to make some things for Epiphany as well. This is also a good time of year to order things for next holiday season as far as décor whilst it is in your mind what you missed.
Now on to the other oft-asked question: extended family. I know it is not really what folks want to hear when they write in, but to me this is such an individual thing. I don’t know your history, your family dynamics and what really goes on when I read such small snippets of emails. It makes me really reluctant to advise anything!
If your family is completely dysfunctional and there is nothing healthy or of redeeming value, then I suggest you work with a family counselor to determine the best course of action for the holidays. It may be that your extended family is that toxic, the relationships cannot be saved, and that it is for the best for separation. That pains me to say it, but I have known families where this is truth.
If your family is far away and traveling is involved, I suggest families look at several things: where it is best to stay, to think and strategize how to keep their children on a semi- rhythm and with some of the familiar foods they normally eat, and to scout out areas of outside play or outside attractions for burning off energy.
Many issues come up around media and extended family on Waldorf lists. I have even seen concerned parties advising others to not bring children to visit grandparents because television is always on in discourse on this list. I have to say I disagree. Most of my immediate family have passed away, and I honestly would be pleased to have my children spend any time with my mother, even if it was watching golf on TV. I am being truly honest here. However, I do think it is okay to advocate for your child and to help grandparents know what would be appealing. If grandparents are open, you may be able to initiate a conversation about having Grandma and Grandpa tell stories about when they were little, you may be able to ask them to bake holiday cookies with your children or any other number of things. And yes, of course, one can take the initiative and ask that the TV be turned off in a polite way. “It is hard for me to hear you over the TV and I really would love to talk to you since we don’t see each other that often.” “I would love for us to tell stories about when you were young, Grandma and Grandpa…Do you think we could turn the TV off so little Jack is not distracted?” I think just being friendly, open and loving can often go a long ways in navigating the media department.
The other thing that frequently comes up is expectations. Perhaps your own parents came from a “children should be seen and not heard” mentality and find the noise and high emotions challenging. I do often think grandparents have truly forgotten what it is like to live with tiny children under the age of 9 if their own children have been off and gone for a number of years. My husband and I often remark that he was going off to college when his parents were the ages we are now, (and here we are with children from ages 11 down to 3!). At any rate, if grandparents have been living without children for a long time, it can be difficult to adjust to that level of noise and happy chaos again! So expectations on the part of family can change from the beginning of your trip to the end of your trip. I think that is something to keep in mind when you arrive and are feeling tense over every bout of sibling fighting or tears.
I think all you can do is try to relax, and breathe. It is not going to go perfectly. And it doesn’t have to! I think mothers often put way too much pressure on themselves to make sure they present themselves and their children as “perfect.”. Sometimes being authentic and real is even better.
And not all expectations are bad. Sometimes being with extended family does allow us to see our children through different lenses, and to realize we are doing many things right; that our children can adapt to different family cultures and that their manners are decent. Sometimes it makes us realize the areas where we have let things slide in our own homes or helps us realize we need to talk to our children about what makes other family members comfortable too. It is not all about our own child, it is also about the whole extended family unit, which involves compromise. I don’t think this should be a source of guilt, or shame, or sadness, but just a piece of learning about how we can help our children fit into our family for next year. “Aunt Mildred really likes it when you take the time to talk to her,” you can say to your eleven-year-old.
The December holidays are a short period; usually these family gatherings only take several days to a week. Some families have also found it to be less stressful and more fun to visit extended family sometime before or after a main holiday. I would not be afraid to change around traveling plans for what works for your family, without feeling of obligation of “this is how we have always done it.”
If family is coming to visit you and stay in your home, I think it is okay to have a conversation about how excited you are that they are coming, but also to set some basic rules down for everyone’s comfort. After all, if family only comes a certain amount of time each year, they may not realize that you really honestly don’t watch a lot of media, or that your children really do go to bed early.
If your family is coming to your home and you feel tense, I think it is worthy to ask yourself if this is due to the usual hustle and bustle kinds of things, or is it due to the dynamics between you and family members? I guess all you can do if it is family dynamics, is to observe yourself, watch yourself and look at what you can do to promote peace in your own home. You are the only one that you have control over.
Much love in this New Year, and many blessings,