Your Best Christmas Ever

Breaking free from six yuletide expectations

My children have attached their Christmas wish lists to the refrigerator. Actually, I have to lift the lists to find the refrigerator.

Most parents agree: When it comes to Christmas, our kids want too much. Their expectations are out of line.

Unfortunately, the same can often be said for you and me.

Okay, we're not whining for the latest Nintendo-64 cartridge, or pining for American Girl dolls that cost more than the dress I wore to my high school reunion. Our wish list has only one item. But it's a doozy. What do we want for the holidays?

Just The Perfect Christmas.

We want our homes to smell like fresh-baked goodies and our Christmas trees to look like something out of Southern Living. We want the members of our families to get along so well that, next to us, the Waltons look like candidates for "The Jerry Springer Show."

This year, we should give ourselves a break. Truth is, experiencing a picture-perfect Christmas is about as likely as opening a letter from Ed McMahon and discovering that this time he's not joking! So let's stop tormenting ourselves. Let's do some myth-busting, shall we? Several unrealistic expectations thrive during the holiday season, but we can instead learn to enjoy real life despite the imperfections, flaws and chaos that abound.

1. All Is Calm, All Is Bright

Christmas at my house is anything but calm. I'm baking cookies for my daughter's class party, hosting the neighborhood cookie exchange, shopping, assembling the artificial Christmas tree (and wondering why there are four branches left over), sewing Christmas pageant costumes and writing the family holiday newsletter. The word calm has been replaced with words like Rolaids, nervous tic and I need chocolate and I need it now!

Is there a better way? Are there things you and I can do to keep our commitments manageable during the holiday season?

One solution is to negotiate. When you get that call from the fifth-grade room mother, asking you to provide six dozen cookies for Friday's party, be bold. Negotiate! Say, "I won't have time to bake cookies before the party. Will store-bought cookies do?" If your offer doesn't fly, suggest an alternative: "I'll have to pass on the cookies. But if you need something like paper plates or sodas, I'll be happy to help."

If you can't find a win-win solution and you realize saying yes is something you're going to regret, then just say no. Some suggestions how: "My plate's full at the moment; I'm going to have to pass," or "It would be a mistake for me to take on that project right now because I don't have the time available to do the best job."

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