Joseph and Mary (not their real names) were the busy working parents of two small boys. Joseph ran his own software company and Mary worked as a social worker. Mathew, 4, and Mark, 6, were typical, energetic young boys.
Joseph had contacted us to help them because—in his words—he was "tired of living in a pigsty." "There's stuff everywhere and it's driving me crazy." At our first meeting with Mary and Joseph we asked them what was working and what was not working in their lives. After a bit of digging, we learned that the real issue for each of them was the lack of time for self care. Joseph could get away from the hubbub of home and the kids while at work, but he didn't have any long periods of quiet time—preferably in nature—that recharged him. Mary felt like she was rarely able to escape the demands of home and kids, and being a social worker certainly didn't give her a break from care giving. When we told Mary that she seemed emotionally exhausted, tears welled up in her eyes and she began to cry as she opened up to the truth of her fatigue.
Complicating the demands on their time were the frequent visits from his parents. They were doting grandparents who came almost every weekend bearing gifts for the children; after awhile it was simply too much. While they both loved his parents and appreciated all they had done for them and the kids, their weekly pilgrimages meant that Joseph and Mary had almost no family time together with just the children.
It took a bit of effort and adjustment, but eventually Joseph and Mary were able to schedule in personal time for themselves in their color-coded calendar programs. Joseph planned weekend camping trips to nearby wilderness areas every other month. He also carved out a few nights a week when he could retreat into his music. Mary became more committed to her exercise schedule, which was an important physical release for her, and to visiting with her friends a couple times a month. We also worked with her room by room eliminating clutter and setting up systems for house chores like laundry and toy management.
There was still the issue of carving out some quality family time for them and the children. We suggested they try an experiment. Choose a weekend and schedule nothing for either day: no house projects, no visits from loved ones, no running of errands, no outings. They were to stay close to home only venturing out to take walks and visit nearby parks. They talked with his parents explaining they wanted a weekend home alone with the kids. The grandparents were happy to accommodate, and who knows, maybe even enjoyed the break from their devotional routine as well.
We talked after their weekend experiment to see how it went. Joseph and Mary both seemed relaxed, happy, and connected in ways we hadn't seen before. "It was great," Joseph said. "We just hung out. Everybody loved the easy time together. We had long slow mornings and then either went out to the park, or just sat around listening to music, reading, and playing." Mary chimed in, "The boys loved it. The oldest said it was his favorite weekend ever." Mary's eyes began to fill with tears once again as she continued, "And Mathew said that it was just like Christmas!" Mary smiled as she wiped away her happy tears. "We just loved being together. It was so simple."
What is the essence of the holidays for you? Get specific. Is it building a snowman? Listening to Hallelujah Chorus? Making your family's bourbon ball recipe? Spending the day in pajamas at home? If you were to do just three things to celebrate the holidays, what would they be?
This year practice saying "no" to all but those things that fill with you with love and joy (and don't pack in too many of those things either). Try to keep it simple and savor your favorite things.
Wishing you a simply joyful holiday!
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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