The other day I was talking to one of my daughters, and I misunderstood something she was asking me to do—midway through our conversation, I realized I had handled the whole thing wrong. She had needed my help on a school project, and I’d been absent and unhelpful. When I realized what she was asking and how unhelpful I had been, I felt awful. So midway through the conversation I stopped her and said, “Hey, I just realized I have been completely misunderstanding what you were asking me to do and why. I’m so sorry—I didn’t say what I should have said. Can you forgive me and can I please have a do-over? I really want to help you on your project, and I’d like to respond a totally different way.” You know what’s amazing about kids? She grinned and forgave me and we started the whole conversation over again. The next time, I got it right.
We are big fans of do-overs in our house. Mom is impatient? Let’s have a do-over. A kid is whining? Let’s have a do-over. Siblings get too mad too fast? Let’s have a do-over. Husband and wife get snippy with each other? Let’s have a do-over.
If we can learn to offer each other swift grace with no time spent in the dog house, what a happy place our family becomes. Instead of hurt feelings, we enjoy gracious forgiveness; instead of stuffed feelings, we allow quick repentance. We learn to believe the best in each other. We fill our families with the forgiveness, trust, and kindness our heavenly Father so generously exemplifies for us.
When All You Want for Christmas Is a Baby: A Spiritual Survival Guide for When You’re TTC at Christmas
Ah, Christmas. The most wonderful time of the year. . . unless you’re going through infertility. Every commercial mocks your pain: angel-eyed toddlers looking oh-so-squeezable in red and white striped pajamas, waiting wide-eyed for Santa. (And how about that Pampers commercial they play 5,000 times every season with all the babies sleeping to “Silent Night”? Excruciating!) Every trip to the mailbox is an assault on your soul, every Christmas card a test of your gratitude, your self-confidence, your ability to keep jealousy at bay: babies in Santa hats, toddlers on Santa’s lap, and best (meaning worst) of all: the pregnancy-announcement-slash-Christmas-card combo, a double whammy! It’s enough to make the sanest and holiest of us Google things like “1,000 ways to blow up a mailbox.”
And then there’s the dilemma of your own Christmas card situation: Do you get a dramatic haircut so something looks different from last year’s card? Buy a puppy? Put an asterisk on the empty space between you and your husband and include a line on the back of the card that says, *A baby should be here. Yes, we’ve been trying to start a family FOR AGES, and no, we don’t want advice about ovulation and base temperature?
As a survivor of several Baby-less Christmases, I want to encourage you that with God’s help, you can have a joyful holiday season, even if you are also enduring a season of infertility. You can have fun. You can stay sane. You can enjoy the life you have even while you pray for the life you want.
Here are a few strategies that helped me and Kevin survive our TTC Christmases (TTC means Trying to Conceive):
1–Battle envy with love and self-pity with gratitude.
The Christmas season can make us more painfully aware of our own empty arms compared to our friends’ full ones. Romans 12:21 encourages us to “overcome evil with good.” Whenever I was tempted to envy friends their babies or pregnancies, I worked to resist envy by focusing on how much I loved my friends. I deliberately centered on thoughts like this: I love this friend. I am happy that God has blessed her with a family. I am glad she is not suffering through infertility. I pray she enjoys a fulfilling Christmas season being pregnant/being a mom, just as I hope to enjoy my own Christmas in my own way. (And then I ran to the nearest Starbucks and drowned my sorrows in a decaf mocha.)
We have to deliberately combat self-pity with gratitude. When the Enemy whispers, “God is holding out on you. Your life is terrible. Everyone else has more than you,” we have to replace those lies—which lead only to sadness and bitterness—with the only thing powerful enough to overcome them: gratitude. Remind yourself of God’s goodness, thinking through all the gifts he has already given you—be as specific as you can. I like to make gratitude lists and read them to God in prayer!
2–Think ahead, and be gentle with yourself.
Christmas heightens our emotions, and if you’re going through infertility, you’re probably going to feel more fragile during holiday seasons.
We all have things that trigger us: seeing pregnant women or new moms; walking within 100 feet of the baby aisle; Instagram bump-dates. If you can identify the things that most hurt you and tempt you to feel down, then you can plan ahead to either avoid those situations entirely, or at least to experience them in smaller, more manageable doses (doses that you have spiritually and emotionally prepared yourself to handle).
For example, let’s revisit the Christmas card issue. If you hold your breath every time you open a card, waiting for temptation to take you down—the stab of envy when you see the umpteenth baby swaddled in a stocking; the painful sense of insecurity or even inferiority when you see yet another friend walking across a field holding hands with her children and just looking so daggum motherly and complete—then go easy on yourself. You don’t have to drool over every baby picture and linger over every life update. Set the Christmas cards aside and open them in batches with your husband at your side. Pray and set your heart on celebrating the lives of the people you love, give the cards a quick once-over, and move on with your life. Your life, the life God gave you—a life that is fully meaningful and valuable and packed with love, with or without a baby. (And hey—if you really can’t handle the baby’s-first-Christmas-themed cards, who’s to know if you skip opening them altogether?!)
If you usually buy gifts for a family in need, but the idea of shopping for someone else’s kids brings up too many sad feelings this year, perhaps you can buy gifts for an adult instead. Or bypass the whole gift-shopping idea and donate food to your local food bank or time to a soup kitchen.
Social media. . . take it easy for a while, my friend, unless you have a superpower that makes you immune to envy.
And can we talk Christmas pageants? My advice is to head to the bathroom for a nice long break during the kids’ performances at church. I mean, the heart can only take so much.
Infertility is hard enough on regular days; during the Christmas season, go as easy on yourself as you can. Even though I joke about these things, I’m not suggesting we make excuses for becoming selfish or cynical or rude—but it’s not wrong to shelter ourselves a bit from some of the difficulties the holidays bring. It’s wise to think ahead, plan ahead, and pray ahead.
3–Be intentional in your thinking.
It’s oh-so-tempting to spend the entire holiday thinking about all the things you wish you were doing this Christmas…the baby you wish you were holding, the toys you wish you were buying, the sleep (weird as it sounds) you wish you weren’t getting.
And if Satan has his way, that’s all we will think about. We’ll be consumed by the sad things, the loss, the hole in our hearts. And in so doing, we give away any chance of joy. We give away our happiness, our gratitude, and our perspective.
I’m not saying your sadness and pain and the hole in your heart are not real. They are real. Your sadness is valid. Your loss is legitimate. But we can choose what we focus on this holiday season—and always.
Focusing on what we don’t have has never been God’s way. All throughout scripture, God encourages his people to remember what he has already done for them. What gifts they do have (even if they still lack some things they want—or even things they need). I love David’s attitude in Psalm 13–begging for relief even as he remembers God’s past kindness:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me. –Psalm 13, emphasis added
Here is a simple strategy that helps me reclaim control of my mood when I’m hurting (adapted from my book When God Says “Wait”):
–Take a moment every morning to write down 3 things you have to look forward to that day. (Some days you might be really stretching things, but that’s okay: This morning I’ll splurge and put fancy creamer in my coffee; today I get to meet a friend at the gym; tonight I’ll get to snuggle with my husband and re-watch Stranger Things.) No matter how difficult life is, we all have good things in store in every day, if we’ll just train ourselves to pay attention.
–Take a moment every evening to write down 3 things you are grateful for from that day: God prompted a friend to send an encouraging text just when I was feeling down; I got a phone call from my mother (I have a mother! She is alive and she loves me enough to call me!); I laughed at lunch with a friend.
Exercises like these bring gratitude and a healthy, big-picture perspective into our lives.
4–Be proactive in planning your holiday season. Focus on fun!
Christmas 2004 was rough for me and Kevin. It was the third Christmas since we’d started trying to conceive. Everything in me wanted to hide in my bedroom all December watching Die Hard, the most non-kid-related but still vaguely Christmasy movie I could find (ahem—even Die Hard has one annoying reference to the pregnant woman who needed a couch to sit on—no movie is safe when you can’t get pregnant!).
But I decided to fight back. Baby or no baby, I still loved Christmas, and I didn’t want infertility to ruin my favorite time of the year.
That year Kevin and I were intentional about doing a lot of fun things—fun things we might not be able to do, we reminded ourselves, if we had a baby in tow! We deliberately made new memories together. We decorated our house like crazy and made it feel festive. If memory serves, that was the year we drove out to the country to a Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree. We went to late movies and made ourselves sick on popcorn. We slept as late as we wanted and cooked fancy breakfasts. We went a little crazy splurging on gifts for our siblings. We planned a fun vacation for the following spring.
–We are always happier when we are giving. Find ways to serve your community: My favorite way to serve at Christmastime is to visit seniors in nursing homes (ahem, added bonus: not one of the nursing home residents will be pregnant!). Call ahead and ask how you can give: You can bring cards, sing Christmas carols, help with their Christmas activities and parties, or just sit and chat with the residents. Get ready to hear some amazing stories!
Christmas can be tough when you can’t get pregnant, but with focus and prayer, you can still claim joy. You can make memories and have fun. You can remain grateful and spiritual. You can stay close to your husband. You can sidestep the Enemy’s traps of envy, self-pity, and sadness.
Are you struggling to conceive this Christmas? My heart is with you. Send me your name—I’d love to pray for you!
Adorable guilty dog photo (my dog-nephew, Huckleberry) courtesy of my sister Alexandra, of A Loves J.
The minivan smells like French fries.
Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome looks at me from the driver’s seat and pulls into our driveway. “Home sweet home! Are you ready to unpack?”
I grunt. (Translation: No. Eight hours of road-tripping have left me too exhausted to unpack. But seeing as our household servants only exist in my Downton Abbey dreams, I have no choice.)
Mr. Positive grins. “If we hurry, we can get them all in bed in an hour, and just… sit on the couch. Doesn’t that sound amazing?”
Yes. Yes it does sound amazing. Amazing and impossible, considering all the unpacking and laundry-ing and removing-of-gas-station-bathroom-grime-from-children’s-bodies that lies ahead. But we can fantasize. I take a deep breath and match his grin. “Let’s do it. You. Me. Vacant expressions on the couch. One hour.”
He punches the button that opens the minivan doors. Four children, eighteen suitcases, and thirty-seven empty Happy Meal containers explode onto our driveway.
A tornado of luggage and flip-flops, we stumble into the garage. The children are giddy: “Let’s go see Cole! He’s missed us so much!” Cole, our graying black Lab, has had fun with dog sitters in our absence, but even so, he hates it when we leave.
The kids sprint ahead of us into the house. Their supersonic shrieks make me smile as I wrestle with suitcases—Aw, they’re so happy to see Cole, how sweet—and Kevin goes in ahead of me. I hear more shrieking, but now it’s Kevin’s voice: “No no no no nooooooo!”
Kevin never shouts. Heart thumping, I drop my bags and race inside. Kevin heads me off in his office, boxing me out, blocking my view. “It’s bad—the dog—it’s so bad. You don’t even want to look.”
Horrible scenes flash though my mind on fast-forward: What’s so awful I can’t even look? Disemboweled couch cushions? Vomit? Gore? Has the dog chewed off his own paw in despair?
For a moment Kevin just stares at me, mouth working, eyes huge, trying to find the words. It’s Avery, the extremely loud and descriptive seven-year-old, who bursts in, shrieking: “Poop! Poooooooooooooooooop! There’s dog poop EVERYWHERE!”
I’ll spare you the details, because Avery has told you all you need (and want) to know. (I’ll just say this: Avery chose the word everywhere for good reason.)
Kevin and I have a longstanding deal: He handles pet poop and vomit; I handle human. I have never been more thankful for that arrangement than right here in this dark moment.
So poor Kevin quietly shuffles to the laundry room for a bucket and rags while I sprint past the Disaster Zone, shielding my eyes, trying not to see. (If I don’t see it, maybe it didn’t happen.) I start unpacking and de-gas-station-germing the children, while he sets about de-poop-ifying the carpet.
An hour later, as I’m in the bathroom scrubbing the youngest child, I hear him announce, “Well that was awful, but it’s done.” I shout an encouraging yay. I hear the door squeak open and the dog gallop back inside. Two point five seconds later—I am not exaggerating even a tiny bit—I hear Kevin shout again: “No no no no stoooooooooop! Coooooooole!”
I don’t ask.
I don’t want to know.
But Kevin calls the update through the house: “Cole just threw up on the carpet I JUST CLEANED! Aaaaaaahhhhhh!”
I shout something sympathetic back at him, close my eyes, and dream of Downton. Where oh where are Bates and Anna when we need them? I wait, expecting more shouting and moaning, but all is quiet from the Disaster Zone. Poor Kevin has shut his mouth and gone back to scrubbing.
Somehow, an hour later, all the kids are in bed and Kevin and I are sitting on the couch as planned. The carpet is hopelessly stained but semi-clean—as clean as carpet can get without professional help (which, by the way, we called the next morning).
As we prop up our feet, Kevin starts chuckling to himself. He is laughing—laughing!—about the absolute horror of the evening. At first I just sit there twitching and trying to breathe only through my mouth—my house’s new aroma, Eau de Bleach with Lingering Hints of Poop, has my head spinning—but then I sit there pondering what an amazing man this is sitting beside me on the couch.
Me? My first response to mess is not pretty. It usually involves some kind of emotional mess of my own: frustration, anger, self-pity, catastrophizing (What’s catastrophizing, you ask? This poop on the carpet incident is the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone anywhere. No human has ever suffered like this. Moreover, this moment represents my entire life: all my life, every day of my life, people (and dogs) have been pooping on my party. But wait! It gets worse! It’s not just me! It’s everyone. Whenever any poor soul on this rotten planet tries to be happy, look out, here comes poop! Life stinks. LIFE IS POOP.)
I know. It’s sad, this brain. Probably the worst brain, ever, in the history of—wait, there I go again.
Kevin? Well, he pretty much thinks the opposite of the way I think. Kevin assures me that he feels most of what I feel in any given life crisis, but he chooses not to act or dwell on those feelings. Sure, some of our differences come down to personality, hard wiring, and—ahem—hormones, but most of it is a matter of perspective, attitude, and choice.
Perspective. Attitude. Choice.
Three things we can control, no matter how our brains are wired.
Kevin’s example shows me that when we face a mess, we face a choice. We can freak out, stomp around the house, wail, shout, and abandon our Christianity for a period of temporary insanity. Or we can choose a better way.
When life poops on our party, our initial emotions and thoughts will be all over the place, because we are normal human beings and we hate poop and we feel things. But with practice, we can learn to maintain control even in the middle of a crisis. We might not be able to tame our feelings at first, but even in the heat of the moment, we can tame what we say and what we do.
A simple strategy that helps me mid-crisis is to find one simple truth and repeat it to myself until I calm down. It could be a Bible verse, like Be slow to speak or Love is patient. Sometimes I need something more convicting: Don’t say something you’ll regret. Don’t say something you’ll regret. Or this humdinger: Your children are listening. Your children are listening. (That one always gets me.) Sometimes I choose something that gives me perspective, like, This will be funny later. THIS WILL BE FUNNY LATER.
When it’s all over, we get to choose how long we dwell in darkness, how quickly we start climbing toward light. What perspective will we hang on to? What attitudes will we allow to linger? What willwe dwell on when the dust settles?
Maybe one day, if we practice long enough and gain enough big-picture perspective, we can find a happier viewpoint even before the crisis ends. Maybe we can learn to laugh our way through the mess: at the mess, in spite of the mess, in the middle of the mess—even kneeling there on the carpet, up to our elbows in filth.
I don’t think I’ll ever be as even-keeled in a crisis as Kevin is, but I’m working on it. So far, I am learning to shut my mouth when I want to say very un-Jesus-like things. To recognize those moments when I should not take my own roller-coaster feelings seriously. To give all the poor people in the potential blast zone fair warning: Hey, I’m having a MOMENT here. Let me go hide in a corner and get this thing under control.
Kevin makes me laugh when I want to cry. He makes me want to be better, and shows me the way. I’m not all the way there yet—I may never reach his level of self-control—but with his help and God’s help, I’m making progress.
The next morning, our wakeup call went like this: four kids storming into our bedroom shrieking, “Cole threw up! AGAIN!”
Which just goes to show you: Do not leave your dog home when you go on vacation. The dog will get the last poopvomit laugh.
Want some scriptures on this topic? Try Philippians 4:4–8, James 3:1–12, and Proverbs 25:28.
My kids blew past me toward the door, an early-morning tornado of jackets, back packs, and lunch boxes.
“Come on,” called Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome, jiggling his keys. “We’re going to be late!”
“Wait! I want kisses!” I said. “That means you! And you! And you!” My three older kids clattered back into the kitchen, planted kisses on my cheeks, and then rushed to follow my husband out to the van.
When the door slammed shut behind them, my two-year-old looked at me in horror. “Mama kiss Dada!” she said.
I blinked at her for a moment, not understanding. I heard the sound of the van pulling out of the driveway.
“Mama kiss Dada!” she insisted, her voice becoming frantic. She tried to pull me toward the door.
Then I realized: She was right. I hadn’t kissed my husband. I chuckled, trying to justify myself. “You’re right, but Daddy is coming right back, so that’s why I didn’t kiss him.” Even to my own ears, the words fell limp, a lame excuse. Little Miss stared me down, authoritative even in her bare feet and plaid nightie. I was not off the hook. “Mama kiss Dada.”
I felt a blush creeping across my cheeks. “You’re right,” I said. “I should have kissed Daddy. I’m sorry.”
Little Miss seemed to accept this. We went back to our oatmeal. Ten minutes later, the door banged open again. My husband was home.
Before he’d even rounded the corner, Little Miss rounded on me. “Mama kiss Dada! Mama kiss Dada!”
Laughing, I stood up. “Okay, okay, you’re right! I’ll kiss him!” I walked over to my husband and planted one, two, three firm kisses on his lips. He kissed me back with a baffled half-smile.
I turned back to my daughter, who stood watching us. Weighing me. “There. Are you happy now? Mama loves Dada, see?” When she still seemed unconvinced, I wrapped my arms around him and snuggled into his chest.
She smiled her approval and toddled off to find her toys.
That day, she reminded me of several truths I had forgotten, lessons I’ll carry with me always.
The secret most kids won’t tell you
Our children have a secret, and it’s this: Kids love it when their parents are in love. Older kids and teens may pretend to be embarrassed by our kisses, but secretly, they love it. It makes them feel safe. Happy. Like they are a part of something special.
When my brother was young, he invited a neighborhood friend over. My parents walked into the room and gave each other a little kiss, and the neighbor boy said, “Ew! Your parents kissed! My parents never kiss!” My brother grinned and bragged, “Well, my parents kiss all the time!” My parents’ affection was a source of confidence and security for him—and for all the kids in our family. I want to give my own children that same gift, that same confidence, through my marriage.
Keeping the home fires burning
But let’s be honest: It’s all too easy, once kids come along, to neglect our spouse. To forget about even the simple things that keep us connected and close. We don’t do it on purpose, of course, but once a baby enters our world, our first and best cuddles and snuggles and kisses start going to the baby. When we walk into a room, our eyes slide right past our husband, hungry for another drooly “Mommy-Is-My-Whole-World” smile from our chubby-cheeked cherub.
And at first, our husband doesn’t mind. For a season, he’ll gladly serve as our Baby Gear Sherpa, the carrier of car seats and diaper bags and Pack-n-Plays. For a time, he’s happy to take a back seat while we figure out the whole new-baby thing . . . but before long—sooner than we think—he needs the front seat again. He needs and deserves our deliberate attention, our devoted affection—not just the leftovers. Not always the afterthoughts. Song of Songs 8:6 describes a passionate romance so beautifully: “Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame.” Every fire needs fuel to keep burning. If it runs out of fuel, even the strongest of blazes will die down to ember and ash. We have to keep stoking the fire of our marriage—nurturing it, coaxing it back to life when it ebbs, feeding it fresh fuel.
I get it: This is easy to write about, and not easy to do.Believe me, I know! As a survivor of four New Baby Adjustment Periods, I totally get it! I can’t tell you how many times my husband has turned to me after a few months of me disappearing into New Baby Land, and gently said, “Come baaaaack to meeeee!” Which of course made the post-baby hyper-hormonal version of me cry and feel terrible (which in turn made Kevin feel terrible and wish he’d never said anything), but also reminded me that I was a wife before I ever became a mother. So please don’t read this and feel guilty . . . It’s hard for EVERYONE. It’s complicated. We all have to figure it out in our own messy way, and give each other jumbo-sized packages of diapers grace. But here are a few strategies Kevin and I have tried over the years—I hope they give you some helpful ideas.
Five simple ways to stoke the marital flame, even with little ones in the house
These five simple tricks can help you connect with your spouse, even on chaotic days with babies and young children underfoot:
Remember simple acts of daily physical affection. Don’t underestimate the power of hugs and kisses to keep you feeling connected and close.
Use timers to set aside “Mommy and Daddy Time.” Tell the kids you need a few minutes to talk uninterrupted, and set a timer. The kids can’t come back into the room with you until the timer goes off.
Schedule sex. I know, this does not sound romantic in the least, but IT HELPS, especially when kids are young and life is crazy. We have found that if we wait for the stars to align—kids in bed early, house clean enough for me to relax, me not wearing exercise clothes covered in spit-up, both of us rested enough to be willing to stay up a little later, both of us “in the mood” at the same time—um, they will never align. But if we both agree ahead of time that on such-and-such a day, we will work together to put the kids in bed on time, get the dishes done and the house put back together so I can stop cleaning, shut down all the computer and phone dings, and meet up for an interlude in the bedroom—then as long as one of the kids doesn’t start vomiting, we actually stand a chance! We might go really wild and light candles and play mood music.
Build sacred Mommy-Daddy time into your schedule at a set time each day, so your children get used to it. (This idea comes from John Rosemond’s book New Parent Power.) Kids know, “This fifteen minutes always belongs to Mommy and Daddy, not to me.” You could try early-morning coffee together, before work and school. If mornings are too hectic at your house (like they are at mine), try setting aside a time slot right after you get home from work, or right after dinner. (When kids get older, we can even let them clean the dinner dishes while Mom and Dad catch up on the day! Let’s all take a moment to daydream about how fabulous that’s going to be . . . )
Buy yourself an extra half-hour on evenings when you need time to connect. How? Put kids to bed early with a book and a flashlight. They’ll think it’s a treat to read in bed—it’s kind of like they’re getting away with something—and you can start some early couch-cuddling before you turn into a pumpkin.
Strategies like this are especially helpful for the time of life when we have small kids in the house. But this isn’t just a new-baby issue. The older my children get, the more I realize that this is an ongoing struggle. Older kids mean a busy life and crazy schedule packed with homework, sports, friends, and activities. We will all have to re-learn how to put our marriage first in the preschool years, the elementary years, the preteen years, the teenage years, the empty-nester years. At every stage, it takes a conscious effort to give our marriage the attention it deserves—to give our husbands the attention they deserve.
My wise two-year-old saw what I didn’t see. My husband comes first, not last. No matter how late we are or how busy life is, everybody deserves a good-morning kiss . . . and every kiss counts.
If you’ve been married for even a single Christmas season, then you’ve already learned this: Spouses can envision very different things for holidays, without even realizing it. One of you wants to relax and keep it simple and never ever get out of their pajamas; the other wants to be Clark Griswold, and invite Cousin Eddie and every other relative to spend weeks partying at your house!
On our first few Christmases together, Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome and I ran into unexpected conflict over stupid things: should we invite 50 friends over for Ugly Sweater parties every other night, or go hibernate alone in a mountain cabin with no Internet or phone service or Ugly Sweaters (or clothing of any kind); should we drive thousands of miles cross-country to visit every possible relative, or stay home snuggling by the fire; should we invite friends over for Christmas dinner, or have a quiet meal with just our family…and the list went on. Plus, we both had our own list of like 36 Things We Absolutely Had to Do in December Or Else Our Whole Holiday Season Would Be Ruined.
We quickly learned that we had to talk through ALL THE DETAILS of our expectations and calendar if we wanted to have a merry married Christmas. At first I, being rather a free spirit when it comes to holidays, ran away screaming when Kevin came at me waving a calendar and throwing out terrifying words like “schedule” and “plan ahead,” but I quickly realized how wise he was. And now that we have four kids and all of our family lives out of town, there’s no choice. We have to plan.
Kevin and I have learned that several weeks before Christmas (if you haven’t noticed, that’s NOW!), we need to have a little meeting together. We put the kids to bed and sit down in front of the tree (the calming presence of the tree helps me not hyperventilate). We grab our family calendar, pour glasses of wine (again with the hyperventilation prevention), and map out everything we both want to do over the holidays. First we talk about expectations and talk through our answers to the 10 holiday questions I posted last week—how we want our holiday to feel, what we are both hoping for.
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Then out comes the Evil Calendar. This is where we figure out how our expectations translate into life in the real world, with the limits of 24-hour days and the need to eat and sleep and bathe children. This is where expectations meet reality. This is where we figure out how to make our expectations actually happen. We are very specific—we pencil in everything we want to do over the holidays:
all the gajillion fun family outings we want to pack in
who we are going to invite over, and when
Christmas decorating and wrapping
all 537 Christmas and birthday and New Year’s parties we need to attend
we even reserve certain nights for relaxing at home, watching favorite movies and wrapping presents
These plans are not set in stone or signed with a blood pact or anything—we can always change them later. But they give us a roadmap to start from—and they make sure we’re working from the SAME map, trying to get to the same destination.
And you know what’s the best part about doing this? It doesn’t just unite us and prevent conflict and confusion, it also helps me to feel less overwhelmed. For example, your spouse might help you realize: Hey, I’m being unrealistic in my Big Holiday Pinterest Plans. If I’m going to decorate my yard with snowmen made from snow flown in directly from the North Pole, and carve an ice sculpture for a Christmas dinner centerpiece, then I’m either going to need my spouse to kick in and help me, or consider scaling back my decorating plans a little. This is especially helpful for me as a woman who wants to do ALL OF THE THINGS, but forgets that she does not have a body double, personal shopper, or house elf to help her. Kevin, wonderful husband that he is, usually offers to take a few Christmasy jobs off my plate when he sees how much I *think* I can accomplish in December—some years he has offered to do the wrapping for me; other years he’s suggested we get babysitters so we can go finish Christmas shopping together; other years he tells me to schedule in exercise and naps. (Really.)
But seriously. When you map out HOW and WHEN you’re going to accomplish all the different fun things the holiday entails, and when you come up with a plan for working together with your spouse to make them all possible, I promise: you’ll feel happy and free. Holly-jolly, even. All your Scroogey “Bah-Humbug-I’m-too-overwhelmed-to-enjoy-Christmas” feelings will vanish. This puts you and your spouse on the same holiday team, working toward a merry married Christmas!
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