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Challenge: Reducing Holiday Stress

Embrace the Messy and Magical Moments This Holiday Season

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I have a friend who says, “expectations kill relationships.” Parenthood gives added meaning to that phrase (parenting a child with special needs even more so.) When I expect things to go a certain way and they don’t, I can find myself frustrated and sometimes angry. I feel let down and my mood makes things even worse. I’ve learned a simple truth over the last few years. Maybe you’ve learned it as well…

Trade expectation for acceptance. There will be good days and bad days and magical moments and terrible moments and everything in between this holiday season. In accepting that all of those moments are what make up life we can let go of our goals for unattainable perfection and embrace a messy (but beautiful) holiday.

In general, holidays can be difficult for children because everything is so different. The daily schedule is different, the food is different, the atmosphere is different, the people are different, and (for us) the location is different. We travel on holidays to be with family, so not only are our children’s schedules disrupted but they’re also sleeping in a different bed and different room with different sounds and smells. It makes the perfect set up for stress and melt downs as the sudden change is confuses the kids and all of our emotions are magnified.

If I go into holidays holding onto unrealistic expectations, I will be disappointed. But if I release my expectations and go with the flow, knowing that we may not be able to do every activity or enjoy every meal and moment, I find myself (and my family) having a special time. Letting go of expectations has brought so much peace and joy into our family.

When we collapse into bed at night and look back at the previous 24 hours we are never going to see a perfect day. The kids will have had a tantrum at some point and things won’t have gone as planned. A package containing a special gift wasn’t delivered on time and my son cut the hair off his sister’s new Barbie. The dog ate nearly half the apple pie that was set aside for the big meal and the doorbell woke my daughter up after only 10 minutes of napping. But in that same day, mixed in with the tears and skipped meals and naps that weren’t taken, there will be beautiful moments. There will be moments when my daughter will ask to have a tea party and giggle with me as we read books together. There will be moments when my son asks for a “squeeze” and hugs me as tight as he can, or pats the floor next to him and says, “come and sit!” while he builds train tracks. I'll sneak peanut butter cookies when little eyes aren't watching and catch my husband laughing at me from across the room.

Mingled in with the hard there will be wonderful moments. That makes a good day. When we look back on the holiday season we might see an image that looks a bit more like something created by Jackson Pollock than Norman Rockwell. But both are art and both are beautiful and meaningful in their own way. The problem comes when we expect Rockwell but get Pollock. But if we open ourselves up to accepting the messy with the magical I think we’ll find ourselves exhausted but happy at the end of it all.

And honestly, that’s just how I want to end each of my days – exhausted but happy, having given my all to each moment whether it’s filled with twinkle lights and peanut butter cookies or snot and tears. When we embrace what makes our holidays different, and choose to accept the hard, we make room for an imperfectly wonderful experience.

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