Christmas Parenting Win

Sometimes my parenting strategies seem inconsistent or like a total shot in the dark. I throw out some creative method, pretend with my kids like I’m real confident in what I’m doing and then hold my breath to see what happens next. Needless to say, I have my share of parenting flops. So I’m happy to be able to tell you about a recent “parenting win”.

At Christmas time, my kids love buying gifts for each other. It is only within our immediate family that they spend their own money to buy and wrap gifts that are only from them. This means a lot to them, and on Christmas morning, the first gifts they want to open are the ones from each other. That’s especially neat to me, because those are also generally the smallest gifts that cost only $5-10 each. They’re also pretty creative with their wrapping, as seen below. Sam purchased an eagle charm for Abby’s new charm bracelet, but he wrapped it in a big box with a giant heavy log to throw her off.

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One day a couple of weeks before Christmas, Lydia excitedly selected things to order for Sam, Abby and her daddy. I told her she owed me 24 dollars and she went upstairs to her room to get the money. She was gone a long while before she came back to tell me that she only had six dollars and some change. We were sure this wasn’t the case, because Sam and Abby both had quite a bit of money. Lydia has what you might call an “organizational problem”. Sam and Abby are so sweet to her and quickly went to help her look through all her purses, wallets, Ziplock bags, and books. Yes, books, because she uses dollar bills for bookmarks. Her room is somewhat of a disaster. But they only found another dollar or so in there.

I told Lydia that if she still wanted to purchase the gifts, she could work to earn the money. She excitedly said, “Yes! I’ve been wanting to do that. I really want to be a puppy sitter.” I explained that a puppy-sitting career she’d surely read about in one of her books wasn’t exactly what I meant, but that I did have some jobs she could do. I made a list of some chores that needed to be done and how much I could pay her for each one. The pay I came up with balanced the factors of minimum wage, the thoroughness of a 9-year-old, and the amount of time and effort I thought each thing would take her. Then, she chose from the list which chores she would like to do. She worked for me two different days doing various chores.

I have to tell you that being in the “holiday spirit” and loving this girl like I do, it was tempting to overpay her or just buy the gifts myself. There were moments where it was hard for me to not give in and help her out. She was working while her siblings were playing. But this was not my gift to give. I knew how much more her gifts would mean if she really worked to buy them. I remembered how much it means to my kids to wrap a gift and place it under the tree that is truly from them. I knew that if I gave her money that didn’t actually cost her anything, I would be robbing her of the experience of really giving and her siblings of the experience of receiving something that truly had meaning. So I stuck to my guns and continued on with this lesson.

Lydia did enough jobs until she had the $24 she needed to buy the gifts. She was so happy on Christmas morning to have her gifts for the family, and I’m so glad that she earned them. I knew this would teach her and even her siblings a valuable lesson about what it means to give to those you love. But already, after this experience, two other great things have happened that I really wasn’t expecting. First of all, she cleaned her room all by herself. She cleaned it like I have NEVER in my life seen her do. It actually annoyed me, because I had given up long ago and decided that she was incapable on her own of much organization and that she would always require help. Now I know that she actually can do it, and she was totally taking advantage of me or Abby or anyone that would help her “helpless” little self. Oh, the life of the baby of the family. Anyway, the second thing that happened is that she is now saving her money. She received some money for Christmas. She is keeping it all neatly in one wallet and told me that she does not want to go shopping with us because she is saving her money.

This will be one of my favorite memories from this Christmas. There are valuable life lessons learned when you let your kids problem-solve their own stuff and don’t rescue them. Age-appropriate advice and support are part of the process, but don’t just “fix it”. Let them work for something that takes their time and effort. It’s certainly not the easy way for the kid or the parent. But oh how much greater are the lessons in responsibility, ownership and the real heart of giving.

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Wait, whose birthday is it?

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No matter how hard I try, Christmas inevitably becomes about me.  I want to be in charge of what my children wear, how the house is decorated, and how the schedule of events will happen.  As the mother of the house, I’m throwing the party and I want the celebration to go as I’ve planned. And then I remember that it’s not my birthday. This party isn’t supposed to be about me. This is a conversation I have with myself over and over. Anyone else?

Most of us as adults never get to experience our perfect version of a holiday. Because most of us have a perfect version that includes and is dependent upon other people, and when they don’t follow our perfect plan, it doesn’t work. And guess what? They aren’t going to. Because they have their own plan, and it is different.

And why have I decided that my happiness is more important than others? In creating what I think is the perfect celebration for me, I’m making others not enjoy it as much. Which might be okay, if it was my birthday. But I am actually getting this worked up about how we celebrate someone else’s birthday. Instead of focusing on what my birthday gifts to Jesus will be, I am mostly concerned with how his celebration will go down and if  I will like it. Because at the end of the day, even after I’ve given to good charities, made cookies for the neighbors, and found the perfect gifts for hard-to-shop-for family members, I can still make it mostly about me.  At some moments, if I were Jesus, I’m pretty sure I would  un-invite me to the party altogether. (Thankfully, he has a tiny bit more grace than us humans.)

Life and its changes affect the holiday gatherings for sure. People grow up  and move away or marry into other families. Kids become adults, new babies are born, and people even leave families unexpectedly. This all means that our family Christmas scenario is just constantly changing. Those that you love the most are now loved by others that you must share them with. We all have to give a little in sharing those we love, and recognizing that it’s not going to be that perfect day we remember or that we only dream of. Or that the “perfect day” has to change from what it was before, because someone is no longer here on earth or because they are celebrating with their “other family” instead of us this year.

I’m pretty sure that giving and sharing is a way that Jesus would want me to celebrate his birthday. And I’m talking about sacrifice here, and “letting go” of your own agenda for those that you love the most in the world. Here are some real life ways this can look: Letting your daughter wear the fuzzy pink boots she unwraps to Christmas dinner with her red plaid dress. Yes, it clashes horribly and will be documented forever in all the photos. Happily changing the time of a meal to accommodate an extended family member, even when you think their reason is silly.  And yes, even gladly arranging your festive plans and schedule so that your boys can be ready to  leave on a hunting  trip the day after Christmas. Maybe a big part of my sacrifice should be giving up my vision of how it should be. Letting others that I love celebrate the way that they want to. Asking Jesus how he would have me to honor him on his birthday.

 

Calling a December Audible

December is a wild ride. And to make things worse, I scheduled a doctor check up for both of my girls one day last week. (See 5 Ways to Wreck December.) The day before these checkups, we figured out that Samuel’s band was coming to play for Abby’s school during that time.  Abby was so upset about missing this concert. Then she told me she would also miss a math test, and I realized we would have to find a time for her to make it up. This was also going to make four days in a row of driving to Tyler for me.

And I thought, this is crazy. Why am  doing this to us?  As much as I don’t like to change plans, and as much as I don’t generally back out of obligations, I called an audible. I told them plans had changed and everyone was going to school. I had to go back home and get Lydia and take her to school late. And just like that, everyone seemed to relax and breathe a sigh of relief. I called and rescheduled that appointment, and now my girls can’t go until February. Seemingly, this sounds like not a good idea.  But it was such the right decision for that day.

With my morning freed up, I realized that after the concert at Abby’s school, Sam would be going to the kindergarten campus to play a concert. I decided that I would go watch and then be able to give him a ride back to his campus. That turned out to be the sweetest moment of my week. Those kids had been practicing Christmas songs so that they could do a sing-a-long while the band played. A couple of hundred precious little 5-year-old voices singing and doing hand motions while my son and his band played had me fighting back tears. Maybe because I needed to slow down so badly. Maybe because I kept thinking about how I almost pushed myself, and pushed all of us to stay the course that day. Some days, that’s the answer. But other days, it just isn’t.

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The Christmas lights gave him a blue goatee.

You see, a few days before in my small group, we had written notes to each other with prayers and wishes for the week. My week had been a little rough, and I’d read those sweet notes a whole bunch of times because I needed the encouragement. One of them talked about finding joy, and enjoying little moments amidst the busyness. This was the perfect picture of that joy. Stopping the previously scheduled programming to have that moment in time was what my heart needed in a week of life and kids throwing me curve balls, where I was doubting my parenting and general adulting.  God said, “See, you almost missed this.” Sometimes,  just give yourself permission to not do it all. It’s okay to call an audible. Stop the craziness, slow things down, and watch the beautiful moments that happen in the new space you’ve created.

5 Ways to Wreck December

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And as much as I would like to enjoy it and not do laundry, dishes or have a girl home from school all day with a migraine, apparently normal life continues as well. So we are magically supposed to do all the extras of the season PLUS normal life in December. But let me tell you friend about some things that you should avoid. I’ve learned some of these lessons this year, some in past years,  and then some every single year without fail because I guess I have a bad memory. All of these things will make you scream “WHAT WAS I THINKING?” So take my advice, and avoid these December disasters.

  1. Say “I can make that.” I frequently go places and see adorable things and think, “That is so overpriced. I could totally make that.” First of all, it is only true about 60 percent of the time that I actually possess the talent needed to make the item. I could definitely buy right supplies and come up with an awesome creative design in my head, but somehow it generally turns sour in the execution of the project. Secondly, people, this is DECEMBER. There are not extra hours, and what you think will take 45 minutes will take 6 hours.  So unless you are one of those super-amazing  craft people that oozes talent, you don’t want to make that. Pay the high price or give up.
  2. Schedule all your kids doctor and dentist check-ups this month. In the summer when you are making these appointments, it seems like not an issue. But then when it’s time to go to the appointments, it is. Somehow I’ve ended up taking 3 kids to the dentist and had scheduled all three well checkups for the month of December. (I bailed on 2 of these.) This is not a time to add stuff to the schedule. Really, if you have extra moments, you should be wrapping presents or baking cookies, right?
  3. Compare your tree, your wrapped gifts, your crafts….to other people’s photos. I don’t even want to go deep into this, but if you catch yourself doing it, just STOP and don’t go there.  And also, remember, that the person who has the tree photo that you think is the most beautiful you’ve ever seen probably has really dirty toilets.  Maybe not, but it helps to just assume this.
  4. Let you smallest child sign up to do an optional science fair project and then let her wait until the December school break to do the whole thing. Because yea, we haven’t started yet. This might seem silly to you, but for those of you who are familiar with my long-term unhealthy relationship with the science fair, you’ll understand. I’m thinking there will be bribery of the big children to supervise.
  5. Leave all of your family’s time unguarded. If you do this, I can almost guarantee you that the world will find a way to steal all the moments, and at least one member of your family will always be doing something other than spending time with you. “Family time” will not just happen, and there are seasonal Christmas moments that you just really want to have with all your people together. Look at the schedule and carve out an hour here and there. Then, be willing to fight for them like any other scheduled commitment.

If you happen to fall into any of these traps, here are some of my quick tips for rescuing December: Amazon Prime, pre-made cookie dough, and the dollar store. You’re welcome.

Decorating Chubby

Most of you know that our Christmas tree, affectionately know as Chubby, arrived in our home last Friday night. (Read A Christmas Tree Story if you need to be caught up.) Chubby was naked for a long time, because we like to decorate the tree all together and we couldn’t find a time to do that. After almost a week went by, I was getting pretty tired of looking at him. So yesterday, I came up with another plan. I had an event last evening, but I knew I would only be gone about an hour and then there would still be some evening left. So I thought that with some careful planning, we could create a space of time to decorate Chubby. First off, I texted out the following invitation to Nathan and the kids.

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If you don’t know, it feels fancy and special to get an invitation. So it is possible that I overuse them. But sending my family the above invite was my way of helping them to plan and carve out the time as well. Plus, it made the kids look forward to the evening. I started making plans and preparations for our party.

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I took this picture to show you what I prepared, and mostly because this is possibly the only time that anything has ever looks this picturesque at my house. All of your stuff always looks like this, but mine does not. So let me have my moment.

We turned on Christmas music and had hot cocoa. Nathan and Sam got the lights strung and then we all hung ornaments. Which sounds lovely, but the truth is that Nathan didn’t hang ornaments now that I recall. He was actually in the room but on his computer finishing some edits that had to be sent back to France quickly. He made it sound real urgent probably just because he would rather do anything than decorate. He got points just for being in the room and not making disparaging remarks.IMG_1549

Lydia hung the star. And then it fell over because it was too heavy. Whatever. My favorite part of the night was right before the kids went to bed. Lydia came and hugged me and said “That was FUN!” Which means my mission was accomplished. Chubby is decorated, glowing in the living room in all of his glory with the fallen-over star on top.  And my family enjoyed a fun evening together.

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A Christmas Tree Story

Every year after Thanksgiving, our family looks around the land to find a “Christmas tree” to bring inside. They don’t look like the ones at the Christmas tree farm much at all, but there are lots of tree choices and they’re free. We enjoy riding around to scout trees out and then start our discussions.IMG_1466

Tree selection is a pretty big deal. We take votes. We listen to each other and try to persuade those who are undecided. We sometimes negotiate for days trying to come to a consensus. The rule is that everyone gets to vote and then I have complete veto power. And we’ve had some pretty unusual trees. We’ve ended up with things like a 15-foot tree that engulfed the whole living room, an upside down tree hanging from the loft railing, and two small trees side-by-side on one occasion to compromise in a dispute between two species of tree. I should have vetoed the two small trees because I regretted the way it looked all season.IMG_1464

Every year it gets more and more complicated to complete this process. It gets dark so early, and there are so many things happening in our schedules. We like to do this all together, and finding a time when all five of us are all available this year has proved to be basically impossible.IMG_1465

On the weekend after Thanksgiving, it rained Friday and Saturday. In hindsight, we should have just gone out in the rain to at least begin the process, because we actually did have time that weekend. Then Sunday our day was packed with church activities and we were gone for the entire day. Monday the kids went back to school. By the time they are done with their activities and we get home during the week, it’s almost dark or is dark. Nathan and I knew it was going to get crazy, so the two of us took off into the woods to scout out trees at his lunch break on Monday so that we could offer suggestions to possibly expedite the tree selection during the short daylight time we might have all together. But then, the week happened. We were never home as early as we thought we’d be. One day we got home with about 15 minutes of daylight remaining to find that Nathan was on a call and unavailable.  We did talk some about the trees with the kids. Nathan told them, “There’s the big one, the little one, and the awesome one.” Hard to tell which one he wanted.

Our kids have band events and dress rehearsal and all kinds of things happening this weekend, so there was simply not going to be a daylight time for us to do this as a family. As far as available time, this next week would be worse than the one before. It was getting to be now-or-never on the tree. So Nathan and I came up with a plan. Yesterday at lunch, the two of us took pictures of 3 trees: Big, Little, and Awesome (or Chubby). When I picked up the girls from school, I showed them the photos so they could vote. Sam was somewhere else, so I emailed him the photos and had him vote. Sam, Lydia and I all had to be gone for the evening last night. But with the votes in, we had Nathan and Abby go in the dark to acquire Chubby. When the rest of us arrived home, there he stood in the living room in all of his awesomeness. See, I wasn’t kidding when I said we have weird trees. IMG_1467

I love having traditions that create really special memories and even a sense of stability for my family. But I also love letting things evolve and change as my family does, and finding creative ways to hold on to parts of special traditions.

Finding a time to decorate that tree will be another story.