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Simcha Fisher: Four ways to keep the Advent season in proportion

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Off we go, into Advent and Christmas! If you’re a mother, you’re probably in charge of setting the tone for the entire family for the next month or so, and it probably feels like a gargantuan job. Here are a few things I’ve learned, that help me keep things in proportion.

Nobody is doing everything. If you read a lot of lifestyle magazines and websites or if you go on social media, especially if you are a member of a lot of women’s groups, your feed at this time of year will become an overwhelming parade of gorgeous, meaningful, liturgically appropriate practices and traditions. Foods you can make, prayers you can pray, special events you can plan or attend, presents you can craft, decorations you can arrange, songs you can sing, stories you can read, and all manner of fragrant and illuminated and sparkly and reverent and crafty and fulfilling ideas.

You must firmly tell yourself: This is the work of a CROWD. Nobody is doing all of this. Most people are doing a few things, and when you put it all together, it’s a lot. That’s what you’re seeing. If you look at your individual efforts and match it against what you’re seeing, of course it’s going to look paltry, because you’re just one person.

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There are a few people who are doing a lot of things, and hooray for them, but they truly do not win any prizes for this. If you are doing anything at all to mark Advent and Christmas as a season that is different from the rest of the year — even if you’re just making sure you get the family to confession sometime before Christmas! — then you are doing it right. Light a candle and call it good. Nobody is doing everything.

“Annual traditions” are more flexible than you’d think. You know how, if you buy a snow cone at the beach, and immediately your kids decide that it’s a Thing You Do Every Year, and in fact a Thing You Have Always Done? Even though you actually only did it one time? Well, you did this, too, when you were a kid, and this probably accounts for some of the cherished memories you have of things you did every year, and that maybe you feel like you absolutely must recreate for your kids.

You may remember that your mother always baked a certain kind of cookie, or your daddy always took you to see the lights, and if you don’t do all of these things for your kids every year, you’re letting them down.

The truth is, maybe you only did those things once or twice when you were a kid. There may well have been years and years when your parents were too busy or too tired, or they forgot, or they didn’t realise it was a big deal, or they couldn’t afford it. This is normal. It happened to you, and it will happen to your kids. People’s brains fill in the gaps and make happy memories anyway, for better or for worse.

Kids do love predictability and repetition; but you’re not the slave of tradition. If your calendar is really overwhelming, just ask your kids which things are really important to them, and which things they feel less strongly about — and do the same for yourself. Then start shedding things without guilt.

Remember, life is for people, not for the camera. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to record memories, so you can one day look back on them fondly and relive the days when everyone was young and soft and cute. It becomes a problem when your whole experience becomes the image you record and share. It’s monstrously easy for this to start happening.

I’ve seen many a mom terrorising her family into a miserable, artificially crafted tableau that totally ruins the experience that they’re ostensibly there to enjoy —  climbing a mountain, picking apples, cutting down a Christmas tree, or whatever. So get ahold of yourself! If you feel this particular demon starting to take over, and your family has told you it’s a problem, maybe turn the camera off and mortify yourself by spending a few hours just living your life undocumented. You can do it.

Starting to tame the camera, and take back your life from the urge to record everything, can be both a small penance and act of self-discipline, which is appropriate for Advent, and also a way of freeing yourself. So many of our bad habits feel like indulgences, but they are actually chains.

And finally:

Advent and Christmas are not the time to reinvent yourself and become an entirely different kind of person or family. Yes, Advent is the time in the liturgical calendar when we can pause and reflect and become quiet and allow for whatever changes the coming Christ wants to bring into our lives. It’s entirely possible that the Christ Child has some kind of surprise in store, and may bring the gift of some massive conversion or revelation to you or your family. It is a penitential season, and that may happen!

But more broadly speaking, sometimes moms in particular feel that Advent and Christmas are our last chance to right all the things that have gone wrong in our family culture over the course of the year, and our final opportunity to become the kind of family we always wanted to be. This is a mistake.

Much better instead to take a good look at what kind of family you really are, and go with your strengths. When God wants to heal you, he wants to make you more who you are, not make you be someone else entirely. So beware the impulse to radically revamp your personality. Instead, take who you are and lay it before the manger. Amplify what is best about who you already are. That is what Jesus did when he was born.


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