Monstrous holiday expectations: a mother’s cautionary tale
Special to Stars and Stripes November 24, 2023
I’ll admit, it was my own fault. I not only created the monster, I nurtured and enabled it, until it became an unruly beast, with razor-sharp claws and gnashing teeth, hell-bent on turning my family against me and crushing my holiday spirit.
It all started long ago, when our family was young. Back then, I believed naively that being a good mom meant that I had to work hard to give my family magical holiday experiences. So, while my Navy husband, Francis, was busy with work, travel and deployments, I was home with our kids, creating an elaborate schedule of family traditions for every holiday, complete with special foods, activities, crafts, music, experiences and surprises.
When the kids were in elementary school, I ran our 101-house neighborhood’s annual Halloween parade, pumpkin carving contest and party. I also insisted on sewing our three kids’ costumes, serving as homeroom mom and reading only Halloween-themed books at bedtime. Pure idiocy!
During Thanksgivings, I cooked elaborate dinners while Francis cozied up with the kids to watch the Macy’s parade. I considered cooking all day a labor of love and took pride in watching my family ooh and ahh as they took their seats around our candle-lit Thanksgiving feast. Never mind the fact that our kids mostly just ate the dinner rolls. Oh, the stupidity!
The Christmas season was the holiday that I really screwed up. I went overboard every year, creating the most cozy, cinnamon-spiked, wood-burning, pine-scented, twinkle-lighted atmosphere I could muster. I’d cart our family to bonfires, tree lightings, neighborhood caroling and mall Santa visits, all while guzzling gallons of hot cocoa stirred with peppermint sticks. I’d break out Christmas-themed books for bedtime, ramping up anticipation so that Christmas became an impossible, sugar-plum vision of present-heaped joy. What a fool I was!
As embarrassing as it is to admit these heinous mothering crimes now, it’s my hope that other moms will learn from my mistakes. When I thought I was creating wonderful family traditions, I was really creating impossible family expectations that would come back to bite me in the holidays to come.
The first nip happened one Thanksgiving when the kids were teenagers. As usual, I got up at the crack of dawn to prep the turkey, chop onions, simmer the giblets and begin the million other tasks required for the holiday.
Francis appeared mid-morning in search of coffee. By that time, I was ready for company, but he soon disappeared from the kitchen. An hour later, I saw him out the window, laughing with a neighbor. An hour before dinner, I found Francis and the kids in our living room, draped on the sofas, enjoying the Macy’s Day parade television broadcast in their slippered feet.
“Food about done, Hon? I’m getting hungry,” Francis yawned, as I stared back at him, irritated. An hour after dinner, I found him asleep in his recliner, a crust of pie perched on his sweater.
This scene would repeat itself on December 24th, when I found myself alone in the kitchen, cooking the elaborate Christmas Eve meal my family had come to expect — bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin, sausage stuffed mushrooms, homemade macaroni and cheese, onion-Swiss bread and steamed asparagus — while I seethed with resentment.
It took an unflattering holiday meltdown in front of my family for me to finally kill the monstrous expectations that I’d created so long ago. Not only did I have to come to terms with the fact that my beloved traditions were unsustainable, my family now understands that everyone has to pitch in to help on the holidays.
Last year, I started a wonderful new tradition of delegating holiday duties. Last week, I emailed a written “Thanksgiving Day Plan” to our three adult children, an invited boyfriend and Francis. It began with the following warning, “Listen up! This is extremely important! The family will NOT spend the entire day lounging in the family room watching the Macy’s parade while Mom cooks the whole Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen all by herself.”
I finally wised up and realized that good mothers avoid monstrous holiday expectations. And my family now understands that Happy Holidays happen when Mom gets to have fun, too.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: email@example.com