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The Gift of Presence

By Melody M. Ott

LCSW with Wellbeing Collective

Well, black Friday has come and gone. We are all in the throes of Christmas shopping, or maybe you have finished, in which case, I am jealous! There are parties, school plays, parades, cookie baking, cleaning, grocery shopping, menu planning, gift exchanges, more cookie baking...and now the kids are out of school! With so much going on during the holiday season, it can be a challenge to simply enjoy the presence of family.

Regardless of whether your family means your children and spouse, or a large extended family, taking sometime during the holidays to slow down and just be present can be such a challenge! There is so much pressure during the holidays to make everything perfect! I have three children, and I want once read a quote that said, “cleaning when your children are at home is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreo cookies!” I don’t know who wrote it, but they must know my children! The fact is that while I appreciate things being “Martha Stewart” perfect, that is just not the reality of my life and so I constantly feel let down by my own shortcomings throughout the season.

In the mental health world, we often speak of mindfulness. Psychology Today states that, “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” As a psychotherapist, I work with my clients on this, and this holiday, I am going to take my own advice!

When I think of mindfulness during the holidays, I think of the book, Moosletoe, written by Margie Palatini (if you haven’t read it to your kids, do it! It is on YouTube). In this story, Moose is completely engrossed in the holiday, “must dos” and with everything being “perfectly perfect”! The only problem is that he forgets the Christmas tree! A very busy moose finds himself forced to be still and simply enjoy his children and family! In the spirit of Moosletoe, I vow to enjoy every moment I can with my family, even in the midst of my messy, cookie-less house! Here is my plan…

The first part of my plan is to have an accountability partner. By this I mean someone who can lovingly remind you of the goals you have set for the holiday. I usually hate it when my husband reminds me to do something that I have forgotten to do, but I need to ask my husband to gently encourage me to sit down, enjoy, and just be present with my family. I am choosing him, not only because he will be with me throughout the holidays, but because he is so good at this. He never misses an opportunity to just enjoy our children (he doesn’t even notice clutter or mess…EVER!).

Another important aspect of mindfulness during the holidays is taking time to build relationships, both with children and with your significant other. Making one night available as a “date night” is high on my list. During this season of rushing from here to there, enjoying time alone with your spouse is so important. Being present with one another, talking about something other than the children or the holiday plans, can be life giving for your relationship. Again, being fully present with your partner with nothing else to distract you is part of maintaining that loving feeling!

Spending one on one time with your children is also important. My children value one on one with either myself or my husband (doing something other than homework!). Baking those holiday cookies with one child, or going on an errand with another child and making a special stop for hot chocolate or ice cream can be a wonderful way to focus a few minutes entirely on one of your little ones. The key here isn’t cost, it is simply taking time and being fully engaged with the person you are with!

The final part of my plan has to do with taking care of myself! I always seem to get sick during the holidays. I wonder why that happens? It couldn’t be the added stress or late nights! With the kids at home it can be hard to find time to make it to the gym, but as part of my plan to be mindful, I vow to make time to jump on the trampoline, have a dance party in the living room and go for a bike ride. As for sleep, maybe some time snuggling on the couch while watching our Christmas favorites will give my body the rest it needs! Part of mindfulness is just being still, and while this is tremendously difficult (somehow I feel guilty if I sit down and relax – where did that come from?!) I plan on just soaking in the noise, chaos, and happiness around me and as Moose says as he stands in place of his forgotten Christmas tree – all decorated and lit up and waiting for Santa, “It wasn’t so perfectly perfect….but it was close!”

So there you go, mindfulness this Christmas is all about staying in your pajamas all morning Christmas day, snuggle with your children on the family room floor, laughing while they open their gifts, holding hands with your special someone, and just basking in the joy of the morning! I think bagels and cream cheese sound like a great Christmas morning Breakfast! I will save the big formal breakfast for a few days after Christmas! May you have a Merry and Mindful Christmas!



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