Chandler was 16 months old at her second Christmas, a new walker and into everything, but not yet able to be reasoned with. That year we got a small tree that we could have up off the floor to avoid keeping her out of it all season.
I vividly remember telling this to an older, well-meaning woman who said in return, “Oh, but that’s part of the fun!” She meant keeping a toddler out of the tree and, to this day, I question what other terrible-sounding things this woman does for fun. As an impressionable first-time mom, though, I remember second guessing myself and feeling guilt. Did I just cheat my one-year-old out of the fun of redecorating the tree anytime she felt like it?
I am now close to seven years into this mom thing; not a veteran, by any means, but I’ve learned a few things. I am almost three years into parenting a disabled child, a chunk of time in which all the expectations and preconceived picture-perfect moments of motherhood I formed in my mind years ago have been upended, shaken around and maybe even stomped on a little bit, then handed back to me in the form of something completely different but just as special as what I envisioned for myself. Still not a veteran, by any means, but I’ve learned even more than a few things through that.
It seems so trivial now, but do you know what I wish I could go back and tell that new mom who felt guilty over a small tree? I wish I could give her a hug and then scream a big, fat, “NO!” in her ear. NO, you’re not cheating anyone out of fun. You’re giving your family a mom who could take one thing off her plate in order to be a bit more relaxed and joyful in that season.
We went back to a small tree this year. Landry is close to three years old, but is developmentally and cognitively in the six-to-nine-month range. She started crawling this fall and is unable to be reasoned with, similar to an above-mentioned toddler. The difference is that I have no idea when we will move on from this stage. I don’t say that to be demeaning in any way; it is a fact. It’s simply where we’re at right now.
At that rate, who knows when we will have a big tree on the floor again? We might never. Not entirely because of Landry but maybe also because *gasp* I LIKE our small tree! I also happen to like the mom I am because I am not constantly fighting a child out of said tree. I wish I could go back to that original conversation and answer how I would answer today: “Good for you for thinking that’s fun, but I truly cannot think of anything more miserable or annoying.”
Your version of my small tree story might be something else. It might be a craft or activity or one more set of plans. It could be anything that you feel obligated to execute just for the sake of tradition. But what if the very thought of that thing makes you feel drained? What if doing that thing, for the sake of tradition, only comes at the expense of your sanity and joy? (I feel this way about Elf on the Shelf, by the way.) It’s fine to say no, regardless of what anyone else thinks. You don’t have to do that thing that doesn’t fulfill you just because someone else says it’s fun. It’s also fine if that’s not limited to one thing; it’s ok to not do multiple things that you just simply don’t want to or can’t do!
We don’t owe our kids a perfect holiday season. There’s no such thing and we could run ourselves ragged striving for such an unattainable and stressful idea. We owe them a holiday season that is perfect for our individual situation. It will look different for everyone.
We don’t owe them every seamlessly-executed tradition under the sun, dreamed up who-knows-when by who-knows-who (someone with more energy than me, that’s for sure!). We owe our kids a mom that doesn’t feel obligated to do it all. But I should also add: maybe it brings you joy to actually do all the things; I think that’s great! It’s just that I am now able to rest comfortably in the fact that I will never be you and I know my kids will be fine too.
My family’s Christmas traditions will not be the same as yours. Your family’s festivities will look differently than the next family’s. Our kids will go to school and talk about what happens at their house and find out that it’s done completely differently at their friends’ houses, but I’m realizing that that will have far less of an effect on them than I think it does. Some will do more; some will do less. Some will spend more; some will spend less. Our kids will all be fine.
I hope that, if you have an equivalent to my small tree in the coming week, you can be comfortable with putting it down, whatever that thing may be for you. Be comfortable with putting to rest the self-inflicted pressure to create perfectly-curated Christmas memories for your family. The next seven days do not have to align with society’s or social media’s ideas of perfection in order to be perfect for your family. They can be busy, they can be lazy, they can be any darn way that works for you.
All that to say, I hope you consider this your permission. Permission to not do the things that don’t bring you joy. Put down the expectations and enjoy, guilt free. Permission granted: just don’t. The kids will all be fine, I promise.
xo – Lindsay