Last year was my first time using the season of Advent for an intentional slowing down and connecting with my family. It made such an impact on me that there was no question whether I would plan something similar this year. But as our kids grow and change, Advent feels different even when the goal is the same, and I find that as my kids are getting older (and have more homework, more activities, and less free time) I need to be really dedicated to the cause in order to make an intentional Advent season happen. My goal for Advent is to encourage my family’s anticipation of Christmas by using daily activities and times of connection that the kids look forward to (i.e.: anticipate) each day.
Last year I posted a downloadable document with the activities we were choosing from for our Advent calendar. We chose from the same activities this year and added in a few new ones that fit in with our calendar for this year. So far this month, most of our Advent activities have worked out well and some, of course, have been total bombs, either because I wasn’t prepared or our school/after school schedule was more harried than I thought it would be. Overall, though, it’s been another great month of connection, reflection, and anticipation for us as a family. I’m learning something new with each week that passes but, for now, here is how I’m making it work.
1. Planning ahead. I’m normally a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of mom. During the day I work on the blog, I work on furniture, I work on the house, I walk the dogs, I connect with friends…and then the kids come home from school and I remember that I have to make dinner and get them to their after school activities. I usually figure it out as I go. During Advent, when I am conscious and intentional about making that after-school time count, I plan ahead. This is probably what normal parents do everyday, but it’s unusual for me. I figure out what we’ll be eating for dinner a day ahead. I prep it the night before or in the morning after the kids go to school. I try to make sure that our Advent activity for the day will fit within the kids’ after-school schedule or I drop their after-school activities when we can. Slowing down at Christmas time involves making hard choices.
2. Prioritize. During Advent, our family comes first. Period. That means less blogging (as you can see), less working on the house, less running errands, less social media (except for our almost-daily Instagram photos…tagged #AdventAdventure2014). We forgo things that we normally enjoy to make time for something we really care about.
3. Lowering our expectations. My good friend Michaela at House Over Head wrote an incredibly thoughtful post about wanting it all at Christmas time. And I’m with her. I want the lights, the music, the smiles, the cookies, the snowmen, the sledding, the perfectly wrapped presents, the love, the warmth…all of it. But knowing that it’s not going to be perfect and preparing myself for an imperfect Advent season makes it a lot easier to slow down. That way, when our one and only day of cookie making is an utter failure, I don’t feel pressure to re-do it and make it perfect and I don’t feel guilty that it didn’t work out. I realize that if there’s time and if everyone is in the right mood, we can try again, and if there’s not time or we’re not in the mood, we can drop it. This is real life, not a Christmas movie.
4. Simplify. I like homemade. I like from scratch. But when “decorate gingerbread houses” came up in our Advent calendar the day after our Christmas cookie disaster, it pretty much knocked the wind out of me. I love to make gingerbread houses from scratch. Last year I even wrote a post about how to do it easily with kids. In fact, I was totally unaware of the existence of gingerbread house kits until last week. When we pulled that Advent activity out of the calendar, after my brain recovered from the shock (as in, “What was I thinking when I put bake cookies and decorate gingerbread houses back to back?”) I thought, “Someone MUST make a kit for this.” I googled Trader Joe’s gingerbread house kits and found out that they have kits, and for only around $6/house! But our Trader Joe’s was (of course) out of the kits. So I tried Safeway and for the not low low price of $12/house, I bought two kits. On the way home from Safeway I asked Brynn if she was disappointed in me for not making the houses from scratch, and before I could even finish the question she responded very loudly with, “NO.”
There is something to be said for making things from scratch. It can be fun. It can be a good bonding experience and a great learning experience. But the real fun, especially for my kids, is decorating the house. And being with a not-frustrated mom while decorating their house is a definite bonus.
What has your Advent season been like thus far? Does it feel impossible to make it work or are you finding ways to pull it together? For me, I’ve found that making the Advent season special requires some sacrifice on my part and a change in my daily routine, but the rewards of being with my family and spending concentrated, intentional time with my kids makes it worth the effort.