Search results: Elisabeth Stitt

Mom Monday- Recapturing Christmas

19 Dec

Whoosh.  There goes Halloween in a mad rush of costumes and pumpkin carving and too much sugar.  And then bam, Thanksgiving is upon us.  Recapturing Christmas is essential.  If we don’t stop and take a deep breath, Christmas will be over before we know it.

Recapturing Christmas on Helicopter Mom and Just Plane Dad

And that would be a shame.  Because I truly believe that Christmas is a magical time of year.  There is something about the darkness and the metaphor of the light shining ever brighter through the darkness that draws me powerfully into the season.


I love to get up early in the morning and go out into the sharp crisp air and be surrounded by the deep, quiet stillness when everyone is still asleep.  I watch the march of Orion across the southern sky, day by day, and am comforted by its progress.  In the evenings, I eagerly light the candles, each flame a beacon of hope, a tiny bit of warmth.  I sit and breathe and reflect and am profoundly aware of being alive.  I ponder the miracle of people century after century surviving the harsh cold winter when everything is dead.  I rejoice that despite misguided deeds done in the name of religion, this baby we are waiting for, this king of kings, will renew our hope and our faith that the world can be a loving place of peace.


The Nightmare Before Christmas


I am so glad that this is what Christmas has become for me, but I have to admit, for a long time I hated Christmas.  As a small child growing up, there was as much tension and anxiety and stress as there were carols and cookies and presents.  My mother had mixed feelings about Christmas to say the least.  On the one hand, she wanted to create the Christmases of her childhood in a big white house on a windy road.  She grew up in a household where there were plenty of hands on deck to decorate, to cook, to bake, and to wrap presents beautifully.  Because the work was shared among so many adults, it appeared to go off without a hitch.  Her memory of the Christmas season is of sitting on the coach with her mother drinking hot chocolate and cozy evenings of hanging ornaments on the tree.

Recapturing Christmas on Helicopter Mom and Just Plane Dad


It wasn’t until she was alone in California, living far away from her family, that she came to fully appreciate the amount of work it takes to haul the boxes down from the attic, to unwrap each of the ornaments and to ready them with hooks for easy hanging.  That was the first shock.  The second was that although my mother and father grew up in the same town and went to the same church, my father had very different expectations of how to do Christmas.  His family didn’t get a Christmas tree until the 24th.  My mother would have been happy to get it Thanksgiving weekend.  Every year they fought about it, so naturally the pleasure of finding a tree was marred by the fact that one parent or the other was not fully on board.


My main memory of Christmas is of constantly being on guard.  When was my mother going to be excited and joyous about decorating or doing a Christmas craft and when was she going to snap, furious and resentful that everyone had so many expectations of her about making the perfect Christmas? To me, December was the month of being on pins and needles.  I know my mother planned what should have been lovely, warm family times, but I could never fully enjoy them.  I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.


I will say that Christmas got a lot easier as my sister and I got older.  For one, I think my mother’s need to create a storybook picture waned.  For two, as we got bigger, we could then help getting things down from the attic or hauling in a tree.  So, yes, things got better, but there was still always this tension of having to put on a production that I never really wanted or trusted was worth it.


When I first got married, I still tried to fulfill my mother’s needs for a certain kind of Christmas.  And worse than that, now I had my mother-in-law’s expectations to fill, as well.  We all lived in the same town, and the entire month of December felt like one command performance after the other.  Even my sister would proclaim we must come to her house on such and such a date to make cookies.  Events which should have been truly fun and enjoyable became just one more thing we had to do.  A simple request to bring an appetizer meant a last minute dash to packed stores filled with equally harried people and feeling insecure about whether my offering would be well received, would add to the hostess’s view of a perfect Christmas.


There was no joy, no wonder, no thoughtful moments of contemplation and awe.  There was just obligation and rush.  Even after my daughter was born, Christmas was still about the rest of the family.  I did insist that we needed Christmas morning on our own, our own little three-person family, to open presents and start our own traditions, but by ten o’clock we were packing up to go to Christmas brunch at my mother-in-law’s (having spent Christmas Eve with my parents and Christmas Eve Day lunch at my sister’s).


Rewriting the Story


It wasn’t until I got divorced that I finally found the gumption to put my foot down and insist that my family give me the space I needed to figure out what my daughter and I wanted to do for Christmas.  I vowed that my number one goal in creating Christmas for my three year old was going to be only do what feels good, only do what has meaning.  My rule was that there were no should’s, there were only get to’s.  When my family made announcements about what We are doing for Christmas this year, I gave vague answers and said, we’ll have to wait and see; I’ll let you know later what is going to work for Julie and me.  Ironically, in the middle of the pain of the divorce, I now had this built-in excuse to not commit us to anything too quickly.  Julie was splitting her time between her dad and me and, of course, he had requests of his own regarding Christmas events.


That first Christmas with Julie alone in our apartment set the pattern for all our Christmases to come. Tasks which seemed like chores before were all of a sudden pleasures.  I had my box of Christmas decorations, and now, instead of feeling I had to deck the halls by a certain date, Julie and I worked on the task bit by bit, whenever the mood struck us.  I think by the 24th we did empty the box, but I really didn’t care.  If we only had a half decorated tree, that was not going to ruin Christmas.  I thought carefully about what I wanted to say yes to, and I said no to the rest.  I said no to my neighbor’s cookie decorating party on a Sunday evening.  No way was I going to be a part of feeding kids a lot of sugar and keeping them up too late on a school night.  Sure, decorating cookies might have been a lot of fun, but not worth the cost of a stressful bedtime and a grumpy, still-tired child the next morning.


I said no to bringing potluck lunch to the nursery school Christmas celebration.  I wasn’t going to be able to go, and having to put a dish together to send to to school (and then having to remember to pick up the dirty dish at the end of the day) was going to add too much stress, and it wasn’t going to make any difference to my daughter.  Did I feel guilty?  No, I said yes to other things–like helping the children make beautiful lanterns out of tissue paper.  I drew clear boundaries.  I did not get sucked into having to do it all.


One event I did say yes to was taking Julie to a Messiah-Sing-Along.  I love to sing, so it was definitely something I wanted to do.  But again, I set reasonable expectations.  Following the rule of only doing what feels good and only what has meaning, I went knowing that I would only be able to stay as long as Julie was still enjoying herself.  On our way to the chapel, I told Julie about the piece of music and sang her little pieces of it.  I told her it was about everyone waiting for a very special baby to be born.


Julie was transfixed by the beauty of the lighted church, by the orchestra up on stage and most especially by standing in a wall of sound in the packed building.  After each piece, she would turn and ask Is the baby here yet?  I kept asking her if she wanted to leave.  No, Mommy.  We have to wait for the baby to be born.  And then we got to it–For unto us a child is born, for unto us a son is given.  As we sang the chorus, Julie stood on the pew and bounced.  Then, as the last notes were being played, she turned to me, her eyes as big as saucers, and said with exalted excitement, Mommy, Mommy! The baby was born! The baby was born!


In one moment, my child wiped away a lifetime of ambivalent feelings about Christmas.  Christmas was now about magic and miracles, about exuberant voices raised together, about the piercingly sweet wonder of a little girl who to me seemed hardly more than a baby herself.  That night we turned off the lights except for the Christmas tree and lit a candle for the baby.  Julie had been learning Silent Night, and now we sung it, just the two of us in the apartment next to the tree, holding the lighted candle.


Unplanned for, singing silent night with a lit candle during Advent became the one tradition we have absolutely stuck to, Julie and me.  It has survived getting remarried and blending families.  It has even survived teenage impatience and eye rolling.  The rest of the trappings–the food, the presents, the parties, the decorations–they might or might not happen.  As long as there is a candle to light the darkness and sweet voices to sing a timeless lullaby, I am content.  My Christmas is complete.   


Elizabeth Stitt

Elisabeth Stitt, owner of Joyful Parenting Coaching, is a long-time teacher turned parenting coach and blogger.  Her mission is to support parents in finding that combination of firm limits and lots of warmth that allows kids to thrive.  She arms parents with the concrete skills and techniques they need to parent confidently and effectively.  She is currently working on a book called Parenting…As a Second Language which argues that even if you grew up in a home where good parenting wasn’t taught, it is a skill like any other that can be learned and practiced. Visit Elisabeth’s blog at

Mom Monday-How to avoid the Holiday conflicts + when to say Yes & No

11 Dec

Do you remember Christmas as magical? Many people do.  But that was not my experience of Christmas as a child. Indeed, even as an adult, it took many years as an adult to experience awe and beauty in Christmas. Avoid the holiday yes and no conflicts.

Reduce holiday conflict on Helicopter Mom and Just Plane Dad

Now I love the magic of Christmas, but I’m sure you’ll agree, it can be hard to find and sustain the magic under all the stress.  Growing up I spent the month of December waiting for my mom to blow up.  She so wanted—really wanted—to create magical Christmases for us—and there certainly were moments of warmth and togetherness.

But mostly, we never knew when the gap between the scene she imagined in her head and the reality of creating (and getting my father on board for) that scene would have her resembling a Halloween witch rather than a Christmas angel.

Of course, kids can be stressed during the holidays as their routines get upset and they are vulnerable to being over stimulated, but my experience is that their stress depends largely on how stressed their parents are.  In talking with parents, I have found there are two big areas that bring up a lot of adult tension during the season.

Reduce holiday conflict on Helicopter Mom and Just Plane Dad


In most partnerships there are two different approaches to spending money.  They say that opposites attract, and while I don’t think that is always true, I do think there is something to the notion that part of our attraction to our partners is for something they have or can do easily that we wish we had or could do easily.  My husband is a spender.  I am a saver.

A life time of saving has left me wondering if I’m missing something—a little fun maybe?  a little spontaneity? a little luxury?  Living with my husband has been a lesson in learning to spend more and enjoy it!  I am more willing, for example, to invest in something pretty even if it will only get used at Christmas time.  I delight more in buying special holiday foods.  That being said,  I do not think “But it’s Christmas!” is an invitation to spend without thinking.

With luck, you and your spouse are learning and growing from each other when it comes to spending.  But if anything is going to bring up money conflicts, I have found the holiday season to be it.  So, my recommendation is to have the conversations early and often.  The saver in the family will want to argue down every little dime.  See if you can adopt an attitude of not worrying about every 3rd or 4th thing and just buying it.  The spender in the family will spend without thinking and will come home sheepishly with packages.

See if you can actively resist buying the third or fourth thing.  If you are a saver, it might help to remember Christmas does come but once a year.  If you are a spender, it might reassure you to remember the Youtube video that came out that showed the kids willing to give up ALL their Christmas presents if it meant that their parents got something they wanted or needed.  More is not more, and sometimes less is more.  Meeting each other in the middle is what will allow both of you to move through the holiday season with a minimum of stress.



The first stress extended family brings up is who is going to have Christmas where.  Will you switch off between husband’s family and wife’s family every year?  What about with divorced families?  And what happens as the children grow and begin to have serious romantic relationships of their own? No matter how you draw the lines, it seems like someone is disappointed.  Kids overhear our conversations about the logistics and feel disloyal if they want something else.

Reduce holiday conflict on Helicopter Mom and Just Plane Dad

I have no good solutions for these challenges other than to acknowledge that it is stressful and with a deep breath try to let go of the emotion attached to it.  The other step I take for my own self is to have a small ritual that counts as the core of Christmas to me.  That way, no matter who comes to our house or whose house we celebrate at, my daughter and I have sung Silent Night by the lights of the Christmas tree.  I feel like as long as we have that, we can flex with the rest.

Family is also often a double edge sword.  On the one hand we long to be all together.  On the other hand not everyone gets along equally.  Here are some of the more mild complaints I’ve heard recently:

  • I like my mother-in-law but she makes me feel like a complete dud in the kitchen, and when I bring something store-bought rather than risk my poor skills, she looks at me like I don’t care enough to make homemade.
  • My father-in-law is a nice enough man.  Until he’s had a little too much egg nog.
  • Jack’s sister is great fun, but she has no control at all over her kids and it makes every meal a circus.


The fact that Christmas comes once a year makes the little time we have together feel more precious, so it has to be perfect.  That makes us less tolerant than we might otherwise be.

And what is it about stepping back into our childhood homes that makes us feel—and act!—like children again?  I am a mature, generally very secure woman.  But when the whole family is together I fall into the pattern of waiting for people to tell me where to sit, how to help and generally what to do.

No matter how pulled together I feel in front of the mirror in the morning, I wait for my sister’s glance that says I am a disappointment.  Over the years, I have learned what triggers me and am able to sidestep the trigger with more grace.  I recognize that most of what is going on is just in my head, and I just have to let it go.

Acknowledging to your kids what happens when adult children go home can help prepare them for your unexpected responses and moods. Of course there other reasons we get stressed during the holidays.  Quite simply—however lovely events might be—the late nights and break from routines will stress us.  If you can deal with the two biggies—money and family—you will be in better shape to adjust to the late nights and extra socializing and you may just avoid the holiday yes and no conflicts.



Elizabeth Stitt

Reprinted with permission. Elisabeth Stitt, owner of Joyful Parenting Coaching, is a long-time teacher turned parenting coach and blogger.  Her mission is to support parents in finding that combination of firm limits and lots of warmth that allows kids to thrive.  She arms parents with the concrete skills and techniques they need to parent confidently and effectively.  Her book, Parenting…As a Second Language argues that even if you grew up in a home where good parenting wasn’t taught, it is a skill like any other that can be learned and practiced.Visit her blog this holiday season.

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