The Gift of Perspective: Finding Joy this Holiday Season, No Matter What

“The Happiest Time of the Year.” Whoever came up with this slogan was trying to sell a lot of something.


For many of us, the month of December brings too much to do with too little time. Add to that an ailing parent, a child with special needs, teenagers (need I say more), and the reality of a perfect family holiday is covered in snow.

As mothers, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to recreate that holiday magic for our own families. And when things don’t turn out as planned or imagined, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve ruined their childhood.

So, after years of trying to achieve holiday perfection in an imperfect world, it’s time we give ourselves the best gift of all: a healthy perspective.

I turned to an unlikely source for some wisdom: Anson Dorrance, the acclaimed University of North Carolina Chapel Hill women’s soccer coach, who accredited his team’s Core Values as the cornerstone for their success. These values are more than magic on the field: I think they’re simple mantras to keeping it sane this holiday season.

Don’t whine and work hard

The sooner you realize that nothing is perfect, the better. And to quote my wise husband, “So what if life is hard, you just have to deal.”

Every year my aspirations of the perfect family Christmas are shattered by my autistic son as he races around the house, getting into every water source. Sure I could whine about the fact that sitting together as a family on Christmas isn’t always an option, or I could just follow the advice of my husband and make the best of it. Suffering is not a monopoly—particularly in these trying times. Why not make the best of your situation— whatever it may be. Stop whining and find a reason to be joyful (for example, the more I chase Luke around, the more cookies I can eat).

The truly extraordinary do something every day

Christmas is one day, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa eight. If you count all the post-Thanksgiving build-up, you’re up to 30 days. Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to make these few days momentous and memorable when we should aspire to do great things every day? Think about how much happier you’d be knowing that if your dreams of the perfect holiday fall flat, you’ve got 364 other days to make a difference.

Choose to be positive

If you think about it, your attitude is one of the few things you can truly control. You can’t prevent corporate downsizing, declining home values, or even a stock market crash. You can’t predict a blown fuse on the tree you just decorated, or the disappointment of a not-so-perfect present. But you do have the ability to make the best of any situation and can find ways to have a happy holiday, even if all you can do is open a bottle of eggnog and add a shot of whiskey.

Don’t freak out over ridiculous issues

Isn’t the joy of the gingerbread house being put together getting a sugar high? Anyone with toddlers and boys understands that you just need to let kids be kids— even if the licorice string turns into a noose or the graham cracker shingles slide off the roof. If you want a perfect gingerbread house, order one from the bakery.

Same goes for the holiday dinner conversation. I still remember telling my mom as a disgruntled, ornery teenager that it was ridiculous for her to expect us all to get along perfectly on Christmas when it couldn’t be done any other day of the year. Wisdom that I should keep in mind as an adult.

Worry less about things that don’t matter, and worry more about just finding time together.

We want these years to be rich, valuable and deep

Notice the omission of the word “happy.” Happiness is not a character trait. True happiness comes out of the ability to weather life’s ups and downs. And that’s the most important gift we should want for our children and ourselves.  I’d also add “full of laughter” to that list. If you can’t laugh when your toddler refuses to pose for the holiday card photo or when the ice storm derails travel plans, you’ll never find the true joy of the holidays.

Some years your kids should get underwear for Christmas. It may not be what they wanted, but it’s still a gift they’ll use every day. And chances are, some day they’ll give underwear to their own kids as a rite of passage.