To let go means giving up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome.
~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Feeling overwhelmed with the holiday busyness right about now? If you think you have it rough, imagine what it’s like for dear Mrs. Claus — the mess left behind each evening by hundreds of creative elves, the heaping mounds of sugar-laden treats Santa consumes, the (impossible to remove) soot on his suit, or, (perhaps a bit of poetic license) the sheer volume of Red Bulls it requires to successfully make his way around the world in one short night?
How does she survive year after year, decade after decade, without losing her mind? My guess is that wise, old Mrs. Claus has learned to lower her expectations a bit in order to preserve holiday joy and sanity.
Whether it’s birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Halloween, most of us endeavor to create memorable holidays for our kids. Of course, we are saturated by the media with images of perfectly behaved, perfectly coiffed, and perfectly perfect families in all regards. It’s tempting to get lulled into wishing for some of that, too. If the gorgeous family in that Target commercial can have a beautifully set dinner table (with very breakable china) adorned with delicious food and children who enjoy a leisurely holiday meal with smiles plastered on their faces (with apologies to Judy Garland), why oh why can’t I?
Oh, yeah, that’s right, because my family is real, as in imperfect. And I embrace all our lovely imperfections and age-appropriate behavior. Well, at least I’m working on it. It essentially comes down to realistic expectations—lowering them, that is. Because after all, it’s those unrealistic expectations rather than the conditions themselves that are the most disappointment inducing.
Take birthdays, for example. Although it’s the custom in many cultures, I once believed it a bit self-indulgent to plan my own birthday, but after years of feeling slightly disenchanted by the day, I decided to take matters into my own hands. So a few years back I began scheduling the day off from work to create my own celebration. For me, it’s not the gifts I value as much as how I spend my day—which is outside playing amid nature.
My husband voluntarily joins me for what he now refers to as the semiannual “try to kill your husband day.” (We also celebrate our wedding anniversary this way—hence the semi-annual.) It’s not as frightening as it sounds. Simply put, we head out in the early morning for a long trail run/hike and bike ride until we are spent, and then we savor a late lunch before returning home to the kids. Later that evening comes a home-cooked dinner by my culinarily talented husband, shared with our small extended family, followed by a trip to the local ice-cream shop (where I have also learned to BMOC—bring my own candle) so my family can sing “Happy Birthday” to their tired but delighted mom.
So, take some advice from the woman who has been managing the most wonderful time of the year forever (Mrs. Claus, not me) and gift yourself some peace, calm, and mindfulness.
The Holidays Mindful Break: First and foremost, lower those expectations. Everyone will benefit from a loosening up, including you. Be aware of what is under your control and what is not. Plan as best you can—don’t wait around hoping someone else might read your mind and then let it play out however it may. When you find yourself becoming tense or irritated by someone’s behavior that does not meet your preconceived ideals, see if you can open to and accept the imperfections of the person, of the day, of the event. Often when we look back on these times, it’s the most imperfect moments that hold the most loving sense of nostalgia. As best you can, set up the conditions and then let the rest take care of itself. Sit back, breathe, watch, take part, and enjoy. Target can do it its way—you do it yours.
May your holidays be merry, bright, and mindful.
Excerpted from Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms.