We imagine that to be like the famous Norman Rockwell painting so dear to our American culture and tradition, of the multi-generation gamily around the dinner table all dressed with wonderful food and happy faces enjoying the occasion. That’s what other people do, we think, and if we work hard enough we can be that family too.
But the first step to enjoying the best Thanksgiving and any other family dinner is to realize and accept that it will not be perfect. In fact, that ‘perfect’ doesn’t exist, is unrealistic, and it’s okay. And that the best thing you can do for your family is be a loving, calm presence.
So says the wise Dr. Meg Meeker, the popular leading authority on parenting and family issues. We talked today about the holidays and other occasions for anxiety, which for Moms may be just about every day’s schedule. Her experience and insight is warm, encouraging and inspiring.
“Expect nothing,” she says, and you’ll eliminate the stress we all experience when we don’t meet our own perceived expectations.
Mothers in the US are exhausted and feel tremendous weight on their shoulders and many are ready to collapse. The quest to be a more perfect mom than our friends has driven us to the point that we have turned into crazy people. Not only are we miserable, but so are our kids. They don’t want perfect mothers, they just want us to love them, protect them and want our company.
I have a challenge for every woman who feels driven to be the crazy but perfect mom. Dial down and ask what your kids really need from you. If you are brutally honest, you will discover that kids need mothers who love them, value them and adore them. When they leave home they need to have a deep sense that they are valued and loved for who they are. They don’t need us to perform for them; they need us to love being with them. The truth is, 99% of all kids don’t care if we buy store-made brownies, make brownies from a box or make them from scratch. Kids just want to eat brownies with us.
And you don’t have to be a perfect mom to do that.
We got a call on radio from a woman who was happy to encourage her musician husband to take a gig out of town over Thanksgiving, that would allow them are their three children to delight in a very different sort of celebration away from all the usual demands, together in a new location enjoying what they love most. That’s what my family did last year, when we spent Thanksgiving in Australia with my son studying in graduate school. It was so enjoyable.
Then we got a call from a woman who was heart-broken over things that went wrong in past years, a fallen Christmas tree and messed up gravy and family issues. She said she’d do anything to have all of that just to spend it with her son again, who she hasn’t seen in a long time. She was hurting, but encouraged by the conversation with Dr. Meeker and hopeful that by sending her son the audio link to it she could express her feelings and begin to repair the rift.
“I often think I write about the obvious,” said Dr. Meeker, and I agreed that stating the obvious can sometimes be a radical, counter-cultural act.
Don’t worry about the commercials and the pictures and the Facebook stories of friends who show how great things are going at their house, she urges. They’re not telling you about the arguments and stresses they have.
“Dial down” and “appreciate and give thanks for the simplest things,” says Dr. Meeker. ”Just having another person present who loves us is enough.”
Amen to that.