We’re entering the season of joy…the time of year filled with family, feasting, and friends! As wives and mothers, sometimes the holiday season brings a whole additional workload to our lives that can make it difficult to find joy in a season that is designed to bring feelings of happiness, gratefulness, and goodwill. In reality, though, it often overwhelms us with the additional responsibilities of planning, cooking, entertaining, and giving generously, all the while keeping up with our typical full load of responsibilities. It’s a bit of a conundrum we may find ourselves in! For me personally, I hold convictions that mean I don’t believe in religiously celebrating some of these holidays, further complicating the issue. In these days of Pinterest moms, superwoman expectations, and at time where we have an influx of information of what to do and how to do it, how can we measure up?
The truth is that we can’t! Statistically, this is the time of year where people most struggle with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. While I hope this is none of you, if you are experiencing any of these things, please, seek professional help immediately. There is hope! The reality is that society paints a picture of impossible standards and if we’re trying to meet the expectations of everyone else, we’ll feel like we’re letting everyone down. The solution? Change what we expect of ourselves and don’t concern ourselves with pleasing everyone else, either.
A good first step is to decide what is most meaningful to us as individuals and what is meaningful to our family. This doesn’t apply to to our extended families! Often, extended family is where the pressure comes from, so leave them out of the mix. What is it about this season that you believe builds a better family, a better society, and what is it that strengthens your faith (no matter your religious belief system)? These are the core issues that we should know about ourselves. If you don’t know, take a little time to explore these thoughts and decide for yourself what’s truly important to you! Don’t just “go with the flow” anymore…we don’t have time for these things.
Another thing to decide for yourself is if your traditions hold value. What is their cultural relevance in your family and in today’s society? Maybe your traditions are meaningful because your entire family looks forward to doing them together. Maybe they hold religious or educational value. Maybe your traditions are simply meaningful because they bring you back to your childhood. If you find yourself searching and searching for something of value…maybe it’s time to ditch those traditions.
Once you decide what’s important to you as an individual family unit, recognizing that doing away with some traditions that you realize are not meaningful may be confusing to extended family members. Change is never easy. All you can do is try to be graceful and explain to them why you’re changing things and what meaning that holds for you. It’s not up to you to convince them to accept the change. This is an area where you might just see the “ugly” come out in some people because they don’t like you messing with their traditions, but it’s up to them to accept or not accept. On the other hand, you might see others that want to join you in changing their ways too, if they can see the value in what you’re doing! Of course, it’s always best to try not to create division, so if you can find ways to make the changes you see fit without controversy, then by all means do so! Be understanding and kind, but be firm when you decide to make a change.
If making changes to your family traditions does cause conflict with family and friends, it can be helpful to prioritize. Decide what things are absolutely non-compromising issues that you can’t bend on. Decide what things you are willing to meet them in the middle on. And lastly, decide what things you’re willing to do to show them love and compassion even if they aren’t returning the favor. Maybe this means joining in a treasured family meal but then leaving for other parts of the day’s traditions. Whatever it is, remember that you do still love your friends and family even if they might not be as understanding as you’d like about some things that are very important to you and try not to over-analyze their motivations. And as I’ve learned over the years, they often come to accept the changes and will even be willing to compromise with you in ways eventually. Baby steps! Just remember to stay true to your hearts desires and values over your obligations to those outside your immediate family. If the issues are within your immediate family, this is a topic for discussion another day!
In my experience, there are several phases that we go through when we decide we want to implement major overhauls to our traditions. We typically start out zealous. We want everyone to know what we’re doing and why and we fully expect that they’ll naturally just want to join in the fun as well! But then that doesn’t happen, so next, we experience frustration…frustration with our loved ones for not going along with us, frustration that we’re having to blaze a trail alone, frustration that it’s often not going to be everything we dreamed when we’re doing something that’s counter-cultural. Later, frustration often leads us into losing hope. “Am I ever going to have someone who understands and will be with us on this journey?” This is where so many give up. The truth is that your friends and family might never come to see value in your way of doing things. If you can stay strong here and continue to build meaning with your immediate family and accept that “Even if it’s just us, it’s okay!”, as the years go by, those new traditions (or less traditions, or whatever your change was) will become your way of life and you’ll feel less and less ostracized by those who are less accepting of your differences. Finally, you’ll reach a point of balance. You’ll learn contentment and joy even in being different. You’ll experience so much satisfaction from staying true to your values and you’ll experience new-found confidence the next time you face a challenge. You’ll know in your heart that it’s okay to make a change and to be different and you’ll be happy in your choice.
We personally made these changes in our lives about 13 years ago and it hasn’t always been easy. We essentially changed religious traditions and therefore, wanted to make a changes to the holidays that we observed. We took a little look at the traditions of our faith and decided what to keep and what to throw out. We threw out a LOT! At the beginning, we really only kept the bare minimum because it was a little overwhelming. As time has gone on, we’ve added a few new things in that we love, but even at that, we’ve learned our lesson and haven’t even adopted all the traditions of our new faith. If we don’t feel it’s beneficial, it doesn’t stay. At the beginning, our extended family has been angry with us, told us how much we’ll regret, lectured us, and persisted in not respecting our new traditions with respect to our children. We’ve been at this long enough that they’ve slowly come around to accepting that it’s okay if we live our lives a little differently than them and that it isn’t harming them in the least. They’ve learned to be respectful. We’ve always tried to be compromising wherever we can to show our sensitivity and understanding toward what’s important to them and now that we’ve been around the mountain and back again, things are great! We look forward to a holiday season where mutual respect is at the forefront and everyone can be joyful with each other again.
Sometimes we’re called to make significant changes in our personal lives and it isn’t always easy! If you’re over-taxed or having feelings of, “Why are we even doing this?”…maybe it’s time to take a second look and make a change. Even if the only change you seek is to cut back or get rid of the materialism, it will be well worth the effort. Change doesn’t happen haphazardly and it will require dedication, but don’t let our culture determine how you live your life…know your values and live by them and don’t let others bully you into not making the changes you seek. Life’s just to short to put off changes that bring such rich rewards!
Please share your own stories of your own experiences making changes in your family traditions. Your story will inspire others!