If you’re a parent, the days leading up to Christmas can often feel like this huge performance review, with mounting pressure to create incredible experiences for your kids so that when they are grown, they can look back in fondness and love and have special memories of Christmas to cherish forever. No pressure, right? Yeah… I’m getting stressed out just thinking about it.
Now, how many of you have seen even the most meticulously, lovingly crafted holiday plans for your kids blow up in smoke, ending in meltdowns and tantrums? How many of you have seen your kids totally lose when all you’re trying to do is drink hot chocolate and watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas and bake cookies? What is going on here?
This irrationality is what blogger Jen Hatmaker calls “Big Day Sabotage.” In her trending piece, Parenting Kiddos Who Sabotage Big Days, she writes, “On Christmas morning, behavior turns insufferable over the smallest thing, over nothing. The “who got more” tally is in full effect (Ben particularly struggles with scarcity). The six thoughtful, loving presents are discarded for the one unreasonable, outrageous thing [my daughter] didn’t get. We will absolutely hear: “This is the worst day OF MY LIFE!!” (We hear this regularly on Big Days.) She will end up crying in her bedroom, devolving into shame: “I am the worst girl! I am on the naughty list! I ruined Christmas! I’m giving all my presents away!” I feel so frustrated that I sometimes snap, making it all worse. Ultimately, I dread Big Days altogether and while she is thinking she is the worst kid (bless her), I am thinking I am definitely the worst mom.”
Now, Jen’s family is a little unique in that two of her children were adopted, and these kiddos bring understandable, unintentional behavioral issues to the mix. Jen notes, “Big Days are a reminder of what should have been but wasn’t, all that was lost, all that will never be. While their siblings happily skip through every charmed childhood Christmas memory, my littles are remembering lost birth parents, crushing poverty, and Christmases in orphanages.”
But it’s not just adopted children who struggle with Big Day Sabotage. Lots of children struggle with this. Crosswalk contributor Kimberly Kulp shares some helpful holiday advice for parents with children who have ADHD or other social disorders. She writes, “We all wear many hats in life — employee, sister, brother, church member, etc. And, during the holidays our to-do lists and roles often double because of the nature of the season. It’s so important that we remember that we are parents first. This is hard for an extroverted holiday lover like myself. I want to say yes to every party, make every kind of cookie, and sing every carol starting in September. But, this just doesn’t work well for my mover and shaker. While I’d attend every party and talk to every distant relative, my son is terrified of new situations, homes, and people… Parenting involves sacrifice, even during the holidays. So, I have to remember who I am first the other 10 months out of the year: his mom. And that’s the best gift I can give him, being present, engaged, and focused on helping him to navigate and enjoy the holidays with as little stress as possible.”
Finally, Big Day Sabotage isn’t just something children do. So many of us adults do the very same thing. We build up the holidays into this huge ordeal that can just never live up to our expectations. Our intentions are good, but the results are often deflating and leave us feeling frustrated.
At some point, Jen had an epiphany about how to make the holiday season more manageable for her family. I think this is spot on advice for all of us at Christmas. “I initially thought MORE Christmas was called for. Let’s make up for lost time! Let’s make so many new beautiful memories! I’ll give you all the magic you missed! But it had the opposite effect. Too much stimulus, too many feelings, too much activity, too many opportunities to sabotage. We have to keep Big Days (and seasons) simple. We cannot overschedule or overhype.”
Less during the holidays is often more. Blogger Shauna Niequist coined the phrase “present over perfect,” meaning that instead of trying to make Christmas into this perfect thing, we should focus more on being present for the people in our lives. “You can show up with your perfectly wrapped grab bag gift & your perfectly baked cookies…and your perfectly resentful and frazzled self, ready to snap at the first family member you see,” she writes.
“Or you can choose to rest your body & nourish your spirit, knowing that bringing a grounded, present self to each holiday gathering is more important than the gifts you bring.”
“So this is my advice to you this week: add nothing to the to-do list. Abandon well-intentioned but time-consuming projects. And make rest & space priorities, so that what you offer to your loved ones is more than a brittle mask over a wound-up and depleted soul.”
What’s your experience with Big Day Sabotage? How have you fought back against unrealistic Christmas expectations? Share your stories with us in the comments!
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.