Friday, December 11, 2015

mom fail: christmas edition

This may be the first in my blogged "mom fail" series, but it is definitely not the first in actual experiences of feeling like a failure as a mom. Don't worry—a lot of the time I feel like I'm doing fine. But there are just those moments when I look at myself from the outside and I think, "Who in the world is doing this crazy thing???" I assume we all have moments like that, and I always appreciate when others share their moments of failure and missed ideals (especially my friend Beth). So here you go: a mom fail around the theme of Christmas.

Yesterday, as I was patting myself on the back for doing something Advent related with my kiddos, and thinking, "Isn't this so nice? Creating memories, introducing my kids to the practice of waiting, and giving them memories that will connect them to their spiritual community and story," I encountered two experiences where I also felt like a failure as a mom.

First, my newly-minted five-year-old and I were sitting down to work on the packet of Advent stuff sent to us by our amazing pastor to children and families, Kim. Let me take a moment to tell you how awesome Kim is. This is the first year we've had Advent activities come home for the kids, but this is not the first time I have felt amazingly grateful for Kim and her ministry with my and our community's kids. She makes them look her in the eye before leaving the classroom each week, and she speaks a speaks to them individually about her gratitude for them showing up, and other personalized welcome and farewell. She journeys with them each and is aware of their strengths and weaknesses. She encourages their strengths and challenges them to grow in their spiritual lives and in their relationships with others in the classroom. She often writes special cards and notes to them so they get pieces of mail and other things addressed to them directly. OK, I didn't know this post was going to be about Kim, but there you go.

Anyway, so she sent home these Advent packets with a calendar with scratch-off circles for each day, so we did that part. Then we were coloring the nativity scene from the packet. I invited my other son, who is 8, to come join us. He didn't want to. I tried to convince him. "Advent doesn't really work if we don't do it every day, because that's kind of the point. C'mon, it will be fun! Don't you want to find out what's under today's circle?" No, he didn't. So...I forced him to come join in with the old "1...2...3..." method. Now, I can justify this because sometimes it's good to have someone hold us accountable for developing positive habits. But even as I was counting, I was cringing inside about the fact that I was forcing him to participate in a spiritual practice, as if that's going to be effective and teach "positive habits"! He did end up having fun, but of course my ideal is for him to want to participate, or for myself to be OK with offering the opportunity and letting him have the freedom of choice to do so or not.

The second "mom fail" is that as I was coloring with the 5-year-old, I asked him what he thinks Advent is about. He said, "Waiting," so I thought, "Awesome, he gets it!"

Then I asked, "What do you think we're waiting for?"


"Yes, and what are we waiting for about Christmas?" I prompted.


Oh dear. "Hmm...what else do you think we might be waiting for about Christmas?"

He shrugged and moved into silent-child mode.

Ack! I had, of course, fallen into the trap of asking questions with right or wrong answers, and made him feel like he had answered wrong. Eventually we got to the point where he pointed at the baby Jesus that was on one of the coloring sheets, reinforcing the idea that the Sunday school answer, "Jesus," is always the one adults are looking for. Ugh! Good thing I have a theological education.

What strikes me about this is that a) I see this as a failure as a mom, mainly because he didn't know the "right" answer, and 2) I made him feel ashamed for not giving the "right" answer. Yay for holiday traditions!

I can really see why Quakers got rid of all the holidays. What are all our holidays for anyway, and what do we communicate through them? My kids see it as the opportunity to eat lots of sugar and get more toys. Even though my 8-year-old definitely knows all the Sunday school answers about what this holiday is about, it's not really about those things for him.

In some ways I want to just get rid of all the presents and just enjoy the holiday. Thanksgiving is great (well, besides the history part), just a weekend to hang out with family and be grateful. Why does Christmas have to come with so much pressure to be able to purchase and give? This goes against everything I say I believe in about our value not being in economic terms, but I still feel incredible pressure to give Christmas gifts. I would feel ashamed if my son went to school and reported that he had not received any Christmas presents. I feel like people would judge me for not being able to afford it, or for being one of those ultra-Puritanical families who doesn't know how to celebrate and enjoy life. I feel stingy or like I'm not being generous if I don't give gifts. I enjoy receiving gifts and the special feeling of being loved and remembered that comes from someone taking the time to give me a gift, and I enjoy doing this for others. I don't want to send the message that giving gifts is somehow not spiritual or not connected to our faith tradition. So is it possible to participate in authentic giving and receiving without the focus being on materialism? Is there a way to get rid of the problematic rhythm we've created in our family system and in our culture as a whole without throwing out the whole thing?

I think early Friends went too far in getting rid of all holidays and the church calendar, because having those rhythms in life can be helpful and meaningful. But I do think we could do better at making these activities meaningful rather than falling into the traps of shame, classism, materialism, obligation, and attempting to fill ourselves up with "stuff" rather than meaning.


Marshall Massey said...

With the advantage of 20-20 hindsight (our little girl grew up and left the nest 14 years ago), I can suggest that “What do you like about Christmas?” and “Do you know what I think about at Christmas?” is a good way of shifting things from right-wrong answers to playfulness. But you probably thought of that yourself.

We didn’t shun the trees and the music and the presents when our daughter was growing up. Heck, I myself wallowed in them, knowing this was my one chance to do it as a Dad. On the other hand, I tried to be pretty clear with my family about the fact that the real Christianity, the one that extends way beyond all that holiday stuff, is very special to me. Our daughter understood. How could she not, seeing me struggling to live my convictions as I did?

What I have come to believe is that, when Christmas presents are given and received, not as a celebration of stuff, but as acts of thoughtfulness, as ways of adding to the child’s happiness, as ways of opening doors to adventures, and as giving and receiving love, the kid is likely to get the idea and grow in a good direction. For whatever that’s worth.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Marshall! Good idea for questions other than right/wrong. This is something I of course know, but remembering to put it into practice in the moment is often another matter.

Good thoughts about presents, too. I like your phrase "acts of thoughtfulness." That's a great way to explain it.

Jay T. said...

One of my favorite Christmas memories is of an early Christmas with what has become my family. My girlfriend (now my wife), her son (now ours), and I went shopping. I think it was on black Friday, at a mall. I had never been to Toys R Us. They took me. We window shopped there and around the mall.

We did buy one present--for a giving tree. Her son, who was always intense about gifts, was satisfied. I hope that was one experience that helped him learn to turn his focus on gifts to those given to each of us.

There's also much here for me to learn from:
∙ Keep Christmas.
∙ Do not stretch the season.
∙ Do beauty, appreciate beauty.
∙ Simplify.
∙ Have a budget and stick to it.
∙ Participate in Charity.
∙ Make faith the core of your holiday.
∙ Balance solitude and community.
∙ Have and make Flexible traditions

Unknown said...

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