This is the second holiday where our family is truly complete....as I look back at the four little faces in my minivan I realize how amazingly blessed I am. I have my days believe me, just like anyone else, but for the most part I have learned to develop a keen sense of humor, self-deprecation and zen-like attitude that enables me to coast through this time of the year with four little ones, 5 and under with relatively low levels of stress. My husband plays a huge role in this. His ability to make me laugh in the most chaotic of circumnstances is something that I cherish daily and am eternally grateful I found in my life partner. It's impossible to take yourself too seriously when you have this many kids who are so young and close together in age. A recent example of this was a photo op at a Breakfast with Santa event. As we get closer to Santa, my 5 year old daughter starts expressing her disatissfaction with the color and length of our Santa's beard, my 4 year old son starts to become suspicious of the big guy while my two year old has a flat out meltdown which includes kicking and screaming and refusing to pose with the rest of the family unless she is firmly held in my lap. Lastly, my youngest at 13 months is actually the calmest yet becomes startled suddently like a deer in headlights as soon as the flash goes off. All in all one would imagine would make the worst of pictures ever. But surprisingly, after receiving a copy of this shot, I was amazed at what I saw and people's reaction to it. Words like "down to earth", "genuine", "not fake" "happy family" were some of the feelings that viewers captured and I agreed. My husband and I were laughing and each of our kids were captured in their element. One of our best family photos ever. So this made me wonder...what if I had tried to control the situation or pushed for a fakeness of sort through a posed shot? Would the impact of the photo been the same? Probably not. Which made me think about some things I have learned along the way with each child. So here it is...my two cents on holiday happiness with kids under 5...
1. Don't strive for Perfection: First of all it doesn't exist! You will drive your kids and everyone else around you crazy trying to get that "perfect" photo, event, outing, outfit, etc. Kids are kids and assuming they are not being a menace to themselves or others, are meant to be messy, playful, loud and inperfect. Trying to push or force something that is straight out of a catalog is dishonest, fake and will leave you feeling miserable always.
2. Control freaks need not apply: Early on even before we have children it's important for us to understand that we cannot control everything. There are things that are beyond our grasp and that is ok. Kids (at least mine do) have an uncanny ability to remind us of this every single day. If you must have things your way and everything crossed and ticked precisely as you see fit, you will go mad. I also recommend limiting your exposure to control freaks whenever possible as this creates unecessary tension and stress in your life that you don't need right now.
3. Pay it forward: I'm not much of an organized religion kind of person and neither is my husband, but we both do believe in spirituality, being a good person and karma by showing gratitude where it is due. At this time of year I enjoy recognizing those people that really make a difference in my kids daily life like teachers, neighbors, child watch center ladies (thank you ladies at the Y! I am eternally thankful for your existence and patience in caring for my kids on a daily basis as I workout and maintain some mental sanity time) to name a few. I derive joy from surprising people that least expect it, that don't have an overblown sense of entitlement and showing them how much I care about them.
4. Don't sweat the small stuff: I know, I know...it's the title of a toilet book and it's easier said than done, but believe me....if you really focus on this and try to live by it especially around this time of year, you will be happier and a better parent! Who cares if so and so said this or did this or if your kids spilled some stuff on the carpet. Is it really that big a deal? You can fill your days with the minutiae of life and spend some ridiculous amounts of energy on trivial stuff that will leave you taxed. I say, shake things off. In my case, a nice run or other heart beat raising activity does the trick to keep me calm and in perspective and focused on what is really important without getting bogged down.
5. Focus on moments and experiences, not things: Things without a doubt can make us happy...I mean, just look at our kids Christmas morning opening gifts, but hopefully as we get older we realize the feeling things give us is fleeting and temporary. Memories and the feelings we associate with them (in my case at least) are tied to experiences and moments I shared with my family. If you strive to create happy and meaningful moments, everything else will be gravy.
This is a starting list...like many parents I make mistakes everyday and continue learning...but I try to keep these five principles in mind as I navigate the waters of parenthood.
Wishing you and your families Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!!