From Presents to Presence: Reframing Our Holiday Expectations
By Gloria Allhiser, MA, LPC-IT, Samaritan Counseling Center
The holiday season seems to come and go in a flash now that I am an adult (and a parent), but when I was a little girl, I remember the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas feeling like 10 years! When we’re little, time passes so slowly. Now, these same weeks pass in the blink of an eye. And for a season meant to be about togetherness, connection, and traditions, it can feel overwhelming and end up exhausting.
Now is the time to ponder the ways we can reduce holiday stress in the coming weeks, a season that frequently sees increases in anxiety and depression amongst people from all backgrounds. Parents may experience tight budgets amidst ever-growing gift lists. It’s also easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of the season—concerts, parades, gatherings with family and friends, cookie decorating parties, shopping—all while work and school carry on undeterred. As a parent, I know the pressure we feel to provide the “perfect” family holiday. And when something inevitably doesn’t work out the way we planned, whether it’s a sick child, a crabby partner, or not enough money for everything we hoped to buy, we might feel like we’re failing.
When I start to feel this way, I tend to lose focus on what really matters. I confuse my worth with what I can do for my family instead of who I can be for my family. When that happens, I pause and step back from what’s overwhelming me. Here are two thoughts that help ease my anxiety and bring renewed focus. I hope these tips also help you:
- Remember what you loved most about the holiday season when you were young. Every December, I think back to what I treasured most about this time of year with my own family, the memories that make my heart swell three times its normal size. When I picture those memories in my mind, it’s the people and the time we spent together that stand out the brightest.
- Remember that love is enough. You are enough. There’s a phrase out there that kids need a “good enough” parent, not a perfect parent. The same applies to the holiday season. It’s easy to feel what we’re doing is less-than or not enough compared to what we see in our curated Facebook feed. When it comes to making memories, family togetherness has the most staying power. You’d be surprised how many kids tell me their favorite part of the holiday season was when they all played a board game together and drank hot chocolate, or when the family got lost on the way to grandma’s house and laughed for hours. Simply being together trumps anything we could hope to schedule, purchase, or wrap. It’s okay and good to make that the focus.
It’s okay to feel sad when we can’t get our kids everything—or even that one thing—that they wanted. Our kids might feel disappointed if there’s a present missing from their list, but that’s okay and it will pass. We can only ever do the best with what we’ve got. The myth of more tells us that more means better, but, in fact, more is just more. Things are just things. Love is better, and love isn’t only expressed in gift-giving. Love might be shared in the giving and receiving of presents, but its most powerful form comes from our presence, and that’s the kind of “present” that will last a lifetime.