Ten years ago, I was newly married and celebrating my first Christmas with my husband. I poured over Christmas magazines (before the days of Pinterest) and obsessed about what I wanted my tree and decorations to look like. I was determined that everything would coordinate and look just so, despite our limited means. My gifts were painstakingly wrapped and I spent hours making the perfect bows to go on top.
Fast forward to present day, and I now have a dying real tree decorated (because we apparently didn't water it properly) with whatever decorations we could find in the ornament boxes (because when you have a baby mid-November of the previous year, you just aren't that good at getting them all packed up correctly). Gifts are mostly wrapped and a few even have ribbon on them, but I am one Target trip away from buying those pre-made stick-on bows that my former self would NEVER have used in a million zillion years. Oh, and I can't even find our stockings from last year. (Dollar Tree, here I come!)
In my private practice, I mostly work with adult women who struggle with the things most women struggle with... depression, anxiety, parenting challenges, self esteem, and stress in general. In the last month, it also seems that we have had the same general theme of challenges that they are all facing, which I believe is pretty universal.
"We do not have to compete with anyone, including our past selves."
Who you were 10 years ago, or 1 year ago, is not who you have to be today. We are often our own worst critic. Really, who is that worried about how your tree looks? Or how many decorations you have outside? Likely the only person worried about that stuff is YOU. And if there is someone that judgemental or that actually pays attention to those details, I would say that it probably says a lot more about THEM than it does about you.
Stop comparing yourself to others or what you used to do. Get off of Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. Let. It. Go.
In this short time left before Christmas, focus on the things that you want out of the holiday. Do you want your kids to remember moments they had with you, or how mom used the fancy china and wouldn't let them touch anything? Now if fancy china is your thing, I am not knocking it... more power to you. I am just saying that it is not required to have a special Christmas with you family. Try to focus more on the moments that make things special. Ask your kids what they would enjoy doing with you or the family. Maybe they want to make cookies (and a mess). Maybe they want to sit in their PJ's and watch Christmas movies all day. The point is that Christmas and the holidays are about what you want them to be, not what Southern Living says is the new trend in garland.
Take a moment and think about what you want to remember about the holidays and let that idea be your goal. Pin that image in your mind and focus on that.
With this in mind, you can let go of a lot of the stress and pressures we place on ourselves to have that perfect Instagram post and just enjoy the moments. Find some time to take care of yourself (think snugly socks, cozy blankets, bubble bath, or just quiet devotional time with coffee). And most importantly, let go of the comparisons. Keep your joy at home with you where it belongs.
"Take a moment and think about what you want to remember about the holidays and let that idea be your goal. Pin that image in your mind and focus on that."
Last night I attended a wake for a 7 year old little girl from my community. She had attended the same school my boys attend, and had been in the same class with my 8 year old. Her parents have been dealing with the unimaginable... having a child diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that is inoperable and incurable and fatal. She lived 8 months after her diagnosis in February of 2017. And while my heart feels that it is literally breaking inside me as I empathize for her parents and family, I also am faced with how to talk to my 8 and 6 year olds about death, dying, and even worse... a CHILD DYING. I realized that while these conversations are so terrible and difficult to have, they are also incredibly profound and impactful to a child's life. They are also substantive of how my children will now understand the cycle of life and how we deal with these things.
Research and experience tells us that children adapt to major life changes (moving, divorce, loss) in direct correlation to how the parent(s) adapt to the same changes. So as a parent, if I am hysterically crying day in and day out about a major adjustment in my life, odds are that my child or children will also begin to show some type of emotional reaction (whether that be acting out or even withdrawal). With this in mind, you would ideally be able to appropriately express your own concern and emotion about the issue while talking to your child.
I realized as I sat down with my boys to talk about Sophia's illness and then later her passing, that there are a lot of other moms and dads having this very same talk in my community this week. After talking to a few other mom friends, I also realized that some of them had not had that talk with their child because they were scared and really didn't know what or how to say it. I am including here a few tips on how to talk to your child about death and dying, or really about any difficult topic.
1. TIMING: Find a time that is calm and is normally a "safe" time for open conversation with your child. Maybe this is at bedtime after reading a book. Maybe it is in the car while carpooling. The important thing is to pick a time when you know that you have your child's attention and can talk about important things.
2. WORDING: Use words that are age and developmentally appropriate. An 8 year old and a 4 year old are going to have very different levels of understanding in the world, so you want to present information to them that they can understand. Younger children usually do best with more concrete information.
3. EXPLANATION: Explain things in the most simplistic terms that you can. For example, for my 6 year old I was able to say, "Sophia got very sick in her brain. This sickness doesn't happen very often and not many children ever get sick like Sophia. Her mind and her heart are ok but her brain is sick so it is telling her body not to work anymore."
4. COMFORT: As I mentioned earlier, children grasp things best when given information in concrete terms. Often, the comforting words that we give them does more to comfort us as adults than it does for the kids. I do recommend that you give some kind of comforting statement based on your own understanding and belief system.
With both of my boys, I was able to explain that Sophia's brain was sick and telling her body not to work anymore, but now her heart and mind can go be with Jesus, and He can heal her body in Heaven. They were obviously sad about this, but also were comforted to know that she is in Heaven and feels no more pain.
5. EMOTION: Remember that there are no wrong feelings or emotions. Your child might become sad when you explain this, or also might appear ambivalent or flippant about it. That does not mean they are heartless and do not care, it just means that sometimes kids process information in different ways and different time frames. You might spend 15 minutes presenting your well prepared speech, and your child might say, "Wow, that is really sad." But then your child might move on and not talk about it again immediately. No matter what their response, it is ok. Just be prepared that your child might come back to you later once they have processed it and have more questions later.
6. BE PRESENT: Most importantly, be present for your child. Be the one that talks to them about this, and don't let them hear upsetting news at school or at a friend's house. Be the one they know they can come to when they are sad or upset about something difficult. If you are present, listen to their thoughts and feelings, and share openly with them about your own feelings, you will create authentic and loving moments of communication that will foster attachment and closeness to you, which is what your child needs most when dealing with life changes.
If you have any questions or thoughts or concerns and you would like to share them wth me, please contact me at email@example.com.
Photo By: Frank McKenna
Often I see couples and individuals who struggle to communicate in their relationships. Usually, the issue is that they do not feel like their partner hears them, and when they communicate it usually leads to arguments and each of them becoming defensive. But most people communicate by trying to make a point with the other person... "You said blah blah, so I got mad." Or, "if you would just stop blah blah, then I wouldn't feel hurt." The problem is not so much the content of what they are talking about, but rather the delivery.
Sometimes just changing the approach to the way you communicate can change the outcome of the conversation.
I usually encourage people to use "I Statements" when they communicate with others. Often the content of what they are saying is the same, but by simply changing how they say it, their partner can suddenly hear them more effectively. (This doesn't necessarily mean they will agree with them, but simply promotes being heard.)
Instead of starting a sentence with "You did...", simply change that to "I hear you say, I feel..." or "When I see you do this, I think..."
The most important element is to communicate what YOU think and how YOU feel.
This is how you share your emotions without your partner becoming instantly defensive. It also helps you be more open and vulnerable in your relationship, which is what leads to improved intimacy.
1. Acknowledge what you have observed. "When I hear you say..."
2. Identify what your thoughts are on the observation.
3. Identify what your feelings are on the observation or event.
4. Ask for what you want in the future or desired change.
I am including on the site a free printable to walk you through exactly how to use "I Statements" in your relationships! Please let me know how it works for you!