Perhaps this is felt most strongly around 'events' such as birthdays, Christmases and the like. Such days can create a lot of tension and stress as parents attempt to make these days perfect, to get the 'right' presents and to make sure that our child feels the day was memorable.
Yet, often Christmas day is a day which is imbued with tensions. In the lead up, parents can find themselves feeling frazzled and exhausted as they attempt to navigate the complex demands of making Christmas special whilst juggling their own burdens of budgeting for the day, work, maintaining a home, getting dinner on the table and all the thousands of other tasks associated with being a parent, wife, colleague, daughter, friend. The day itself often involves being with difficult family members, feeling exhausted by the demands of catering and the inevitable moment of tears when the 'must have' $50 piece of plastic breaks on the second go.
And yet, I wonder what are the hidden cost of this desire to create not only the perfect Christmas day, but the perfect life? Whilst there are the obvious financial costs - and no, you will not be getting a Mac Book pro - and time commitments, I wonder about the unspoken effects of children having every need met and anticipated. Of less time to just be with us as parents? And also of having fewer experiences of loss and disappointment?
Like every parent I know, I too have found myself at various times caught up in the need to give my children a perfect Christmas. When our own childhood has been one of very few opportunities or has been characterised by experiences which were unhappy or involved multiple losses, it can be easy to both knowingly or unknowingly attempt to create a corrective emotional experience by giving our child that which we did not have. Whilst this can be a very powerful opportunity for healing our own childhood fractures, it may be helpful to step back and see where this need to give to our children has become out of balance and where unknowingly we are depriving them of important childhood developmental milestones and opportunities to build resilience through not having every need met. It can also be helpful to recognise that meeting every need is not necessary for our children's happiness and wellbeing. Happiness may be found briefly in the new toy, but has a lifelong legacy when found in shared experiences and connectedness.
Recently I was reminded that our children don't need perfect experiences, every opportunity or thousands of 'moments' to thrive.
We recently went on an overseas holiday. After much saving and planning, we embarked on the 'trip of a lifetime' which would provide amazing wildlife encounters and learning opportunities. We would create amazing lifelong memories. Whilst there were the obvious holiday tensions and stresses, it was indeed wonderful. Many months later as we recalled the trip and our favourite memory my son talked about the flight. Puzzled that he hadn't chosen the sweeping scenery, the long hike to a glacier or the encounter with a moose, I asked him why that was his favourite.
He said ' Because we did that word search together....and there was cheesecake.'
The funny thing is that we could have done that word search anywhere. We could have eaten cheesecake on any other day we chose. The only difference was that I was fully present, without a thousand things to do on my to-do list or feeling frazzled as we raced to get to swim training.
If this Christmas season you find yourself feeling stressed or worried that you haven't done enough to create a perfect day...take the pressure off. Remember that at the end of the day, what our child needs more than any other bright , shiny toy or baked turkey extravaganza is us. Simply us. Perhaps a shared moment on the floor playing a puzzle. A kick of the soccer ball in the park. A shared joke over the Christmas lunch , whatever that may be. Little rituals that signify closeness and belonging. Our children remember the little things and it is these, not the bright, shiny expensive piece of plastic, that they will remember when they are telling their own children about how they shared Christmas with their parents.
Oh, and cheesecake. They will definitely remember cheesecake.