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Well, it’s now getting dark earlier and without a doubt the holidays are right around the corner. No matter how you feel about the holidays, one thing is certain, for the next couple of months our responsibilities as moms multiply like crazy. Because of this we can get overwhelmed, burned out, and cranky, or at the very least too busy to experience the joy of the holidays.

On top of that, there are a trillion ways to celebrate the holidays. Some have been handed down to us by families of origin, others come at us at a million miles an hour from every source of media. They all look so pretty or meaningful and we can often want to do them all. On the flip side, we can get so overwhelmed that we can just want to throw up our hands and not do anything at all, and can often come up with a lot of reasons to justify that stance.

Let’s be honest, sometimes our attraction to all the holiday doings comes from a place of absolutely loving the holidays and wanting to savor every moment, and sometimes our view of the holidays is influenced by reactions to the holidays of our childhood (negative or positive).Whatever our influences, as mothers we are now at the forefront of how our families experience the holidays this year and how they remember holidays for a lifetime. (On some level you are aware of this already, so please don’t get mad at me for being the one to acknowledge it.)

Holidays truly are important times set aside, by their religious nature or by public decision, to take time to pause from the ordinary every day and come together to remember that we are meant for more than the mundane. We are meant for gratitude, joy, and relationship with God and others. Holidays are meant to feed our souls. 

But how do we moms do all that is needed to create a holiday celebration - all the preparation, providing for everyone’s needs and hopes, feeding everyone, the additional social and service expectations, etc. -and still stay sane and perhaps actually enjoy the holidays and have our own souls fed?

Full disclosure, this has been a huge learning curve for me, so any tips I share here have been hard won. Perhaps they’ll save you some of the growing pains I’ve experienced.

Here are some questions I’ve learned to keep in mind to determine if a certain activity should be part of our holiday experience. 

1- Do I enjoy this activity? Does it add to the joy of my holidays? 

Yes, we are actually allowed to enjoy the holidays too. Not just produce them for others. Now let’s be honest, we’re not going to enjoy every second of all the holiday preparation. It’s often hard, other centered work. But if we start with this question, we can at least pause and evaluate each task and see if it’s worth it to us because it gives us joy, or at least gives others enough joy to make it worth it. 

For example, I may not enjoy lugging boxes of holiday decorations up from the basement, unwrapping the each piece, and cleaning up the residual mess, but I love decorating with my family and remembering together how each ornament came into our lives, and I really cherish the joy we all share from being surrounded by it all throughout the season. So that makes the work worth to me. Intentionally recalling that allows me to overcome my dislike of difficult parts and put my focus on the part that gives me joy, thereby making the part I don’t like a bit easier to get through.

2- Am I capable of doing it physically, financially, emotionally, or time wise?  

I may find every form of decorating, cooking, crafting, or event attending attractive when it comes across my radar, but if it’s going to wear me out physically, or overextend my family financially, or leave me cranky or in a depleted puddle of tears then we’d all benefit more from me moderating those desires and choosing only those that I am actually capable of taking on well, or finding a different way to meet that desire.

For example, years ago a dear friend of mine found that wrapping Christmas presents was putting her right over the emotional edge. She had five children ages eight and under, including newborn twins. She had no time to secret herself away to wrap gifts, and really no arms, as they were always rightly filled with babies. But having wrapped gifts under the tree on Christmas morning was important to her. So she decided to pay her teenage nephew, who needed some extra shopping money, to wrap them all for her and everybody benefitted from her being humble enough to acknowledge that she couldn’t do it all.

3- Is the holiday activity age/ability appropriate, both in skill level and ability to capture the meaning?

As mothers or grandmothers we often get so excited about sharing the holidays with our family. But sometimes we can set ourselves and the kids up for frustration. It’s important to assess whether this is the right time or circumstance to take on what we have in mind with an eye toward kindness and sanity. 

For example, attending church at midnight on Christmas Eve is a beautiful and deeply moving family tradition. But your daughter-in-law might not find it to be so if you insist she attend during the years she has young children and babies to care for. So with an eye toward kindness and everyone’s sanity, choosing different church arrangements during those years might create happier holiday memories for years to come.

I learned the importance of asking myself this third questions through a few moments of trial and error over the years. For instance, years ago I was hoping to add more religious tradition to our season. One of the traditions that caught my attention was the Jesse Tree. It’s a lovely tradition that teaches salvation history as each piece is placed on the tree throughout Advent. I saw advertised what looked to be a lovely kit. The description said that even small children would enjoy making each piece and discovering its meaning while adding it to the tree. But when the kit arrived it turned out to be several large bolts of felt and a very large sheet of patterns requiring each piece of the intricate pattern to be cut out with tiny sharp scissors, then traced onto the felt, then cut out of the felt and assembled. This was NOT a project to do with small children! I was disappointed, and a bit conflicted. But rather than make us all miserable attempting to do it because I felt guilty for not doing it - because I had spent the money on it, or because other moms did it - I chucked the whole thing in the garbage and did other things that my kids and I could have fun doing together. And all these years later my kids have learned and embraced their faith even without that maddening kit, and the mom police have not come and arrested me for not doing that project.

4- Does the activity give you time together to enjoy each other?

Making choices that allow us time to really enjoy each other is how warm holiday memories are made. So in evaluating whether or not something should be part of your holiday celebrations ask yourself if it will separate your family through time apart, or stress induced grumpiness, or will it give you time together doing something enjoyable that creates connection.

Pausing to evaluate your holiday planning with these four questions in mind can help you create a warm and happy holiday season for not only your family, but for you as well.

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  • Writer's pictureLisa Popcak

I want to remind you that what you do all day, everyday, has deep spiritual significance for both you and your child?

Each and every act of  maternal care is an act of faith, hope and love. Through all those moments of love and service we moms, aided by God's grace, express assent to some truth of God, acknowledging that we and our children are created in God’s image, worthy of love and care. What we do moment by moment is not just tasks, chores, or drudgery, but instead a deep cooperation with God in forming souls - our children’s and our own.

In a world where information is a click away, products can be delivered to our door the next day (or sooner), and microwaves honestly seem to take forever, the repetitive acts of motherhood can often lead us to question their worth.

In other areas of our lives one can ask, “What did you do today?” and there is likely an answer that expresses accomplishment. For example, “I closed a deal.”, “I finished the plans for the fundraiser.”, “ I finished editing the video for social media.” Whatever the answer, we state what we accomplished, receive some kind of positive feedback, and then the conversation continues leaving us feeling like we justified our existence for another day.

But when it comes to the things we do in our role as moms it’s harder to have that experience. If you ask a mom what she did today she will probably grasp for any other talking point before she would say something like, “I held my baby for five and a half hours straight because that’s what he needed today.” or “ I spent the whole evening going over the 3 times tables because my child is really struggling with them.” or “I listened to my teenager go on and on about her recent heartbreak because she really needed me to listen without distraction.”

Because there is no immediate conversational payoff, nor are we likely to get that look of approval from the person asking the question, we tend to devalue that hard work, and the commitment and perseverance it took. We even sometimes devalue ourselves a bit.

But what we are deeming unworthy because of a lack of immediate payoff, is actually the most significant, beneficial, and spiritual work we ever do. We are planting seeds of worth, love, tenderness, perseverance, and trust in our children’s hearts and brains. 

I was thinking about this a few days ago after I finished planting daffodil and tulip bulbs in 8 containers and placing them to overwinter in my garage. It’s a habit I got into several years ago knowing there would be a big gathering at my house the following spring. I’m blessed that the wooded surroundings of my home look naturally beautiful in summer, autumn and snowy winter. But in the early rainy spring (when most parties for sacraments and college graduations occur) it is muddy and bleak. 

Hoping to create a beautiful, festive greeting for our guests, I planted an array of bulbs in containers and hoped for the best. 

Six and a half months later, as I prepared for the party, I checked in the containers that I had hardly thought about all winter. They were all bursting with green and about to bloom into gorgeous riots of color. I kept them protected until two days before the party and then brought them outside where, touched by the sun, they burst into bloom. They gave everyone who saw them such joy and hope as nothing on the trees had even started to bud yet. I’ve done the same thing every year since.

This year I snapped a picture of a couple of the pots just after I finished planting the bulbs because I was thinking of how much the acts of faith, hope, and love we do as mothers often look like this to our hearts. Just plain dirt. Nothing beautiful to show off. 

But when we see what we do in that that way, we must look beyond the surface and remind ourselves that providing nourishment (physical, spiritual and emotional) and a proper, supportive environment, and exercising A LOT of patience is life giving! Just as the soil and shelter is to the bulbs. And not just to our children’s bodies, but to their hearts and souls, and ours as well as we go through the spiritual exercises of loving and serving and growing in the virtues we need while we parent our children.

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  • Writer's pictureLisa Popcak

The mom’s I talk to often feel off kilter and frustrated dealing with the different personalities and demands placed upon them by their children. They may have a thought, or even a yearning, for something in their household to be better, but they don’t know what to do.

When a  mom feels like this she can often express it through anger, hoping if she makes a loud enough fuss suddenly everyone will wake up and conduct themselves in a way that she needs and enjoys. Alternatively, she may feel helpless and give up trying to get anyone to live in a way she would feel is life giving to her. Neither of these ways of coping with frustration help her get a life she would enjoy.

If this sounds at all familiar, I am going to share some ways you can begin to make the changes you wish would occur.

But before I do, I want you to notice this picture of this mother duck and her sweet ducklings. I was fortunate enough to watch eight little baby ducks grow up this summer. From the very beginning the mama duck would brood over them, protect them, and teach them all they needed to know to grow and thrive. Because of that her ducklings attentively looked to her for guidance, direction and protection. At a quack or a signal from her they would follow her leadership and in doing so learned to glide on the pond, fly into trees, and as young adult ducks follow her lead and soar into the sky to migrate to warmer climates.

This mama duck was secure in her ability to guide and teach her babies, and we can be secure in our ability to lead our children. After all she was just a duck and we are daughters of the Most High God, to whom he has given intellect, imagination, and loving steadfast determination. 

Our children are looking to us for leadership and guidance. There is no need for us to falter or doubt ourselves, giving away our influence through the yelling, whining, or cajoling that self-doubt can cause. We can trust ourselves, when we bring concerns to prayer, to recognize a need and come up with a beneficial, relationship oriented plan to meet that need. 

So let’s look at some steps to do just that.

First, steal some time to write down everything that frustrates you about your family life. (not about work or things outside your home life)

Second, mentality step back and re-read the list. Then ask yourself some questions about what you’ve written.

  • Can you see any patterns in your list?

  • Do you see a majority developing in one particular area, such as the peace in your home, your need for connection, your need for more order in your life, the tone of your home, the need for a better spiritual life.

Third, once you’ve identified patterns, or confirmed an issue that you feel has the most weight, create a list of how you would like that area of your life to be. So for example: 

  • My home would be a serene environment.

  • Our family would treat each other with respect.

  • We would work together to have an orderly space.

  • We would set aside scheduled time every day/week for connection and coziness.

This is just a list to get you thinking about your desires for your home life. Write your own wants in a positive, forward thinking way.

Fourth, starting with the one concern that seems most important to your well being, write small steps you can take to move your family toward the change you want to make. As you list them make them positive, encouraging, and connection oriented. 

I’m going to illustrate an example, for two different stages of motherhood, using the wish for a more peaceful home environment, but the process would be the same for any identified intention.

If your a mom of babies and young children desiring a more peaceful atmosphere you might generate ideas such as:

  • I will only play peaceful music in my home.

  • I will invest in beautiful battery operated candles, that I will display out of reach of my little ones so that I can create a safe, serene atmosphere.

  • I will take 10 minutes each day to play a game with my toddler that lets him practice using an outside and inside voice in the appropriate settings until he masters this skill, and can follow my guidance.

  • I will set aside times during the day for both quiet reading or playing together, and energetic outside or playroom play so both needs are being positively met.

If you have grade school or older children you can involve them by discussing the changes over a calm meal. Letting them know the shift you’d like to make. Perhaps even asking them for ideas of things they’d be willing to do to create that change.

*Important note- You are not asking their permission to make your desired changes, nor are you lecturing them or trying to convince them to go along with them. You are simply making a statement. Then telling them the first small step you will all be implementing in order to bring your needed change. 

For example, “I will be a happier and better mom with a more orderly and peaceful home, so everyday before dinner and again before bed, I will set a timer for fifteen minutes and we will all work together to bring order to our shared living space.” Then before you set the timer tell them what you need each of them to do. When it goes off thank them for whatever you all did together and move on to a pleasant next step in your day.

These are just examples to illustrate how to guide your family through changes that you feel would be of benefit to you and your family. The steps can apply to whatever changes are on your heart.

  • List for yourself areas of concern.

  • List descriptions of how you would like it to be.

  • List one or two small steps you could make this week to being moving toward the change you desire.

  • Implement the small change until it becomes part of the nature of your home. 

  • After the small change is mastered, implement the next small change.

  • Repeat until you are living the change you desire.

Remember, you are the mom. Your children are instinctively looking to you for guidance and direction. If you are working for their good and your own and leading them through clear, calm, planned steps, they will follow your positive guidance, much like ducklings follow the movements of a mother duck.

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