There is nothing like a 45-minute commute on your way home in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a cold Monday evening to stifle your holiday cheer. As I unpacked my briefcase and pulled off my tie, Jackson (my fourth child) came running into the bedroom wearing a chef’s hat. He cheerfully said, “Dad, I’m in charge of dinner tonight. I made a menu and I’m ready to serve you.”
I grumpily walked down the stairs to the kitchen, where I saw that the table had been set (…with various sizes of plates and different cups…). On the counter, Jackson had pulled out all the leftovers from the refrigerator. Since we have been dealing with a family crisis and I have been playing single parent for the past few weeks, its no surprise that every one of the leftovers was old and moldy.
So, I threw away Jackson’s dinner.
He sat at the table with a crossed-look of horror, sadness and disappointment as I threw out his dinner. And rather than console him, I legitimized my actions: “Jackson, the food was rotten. Get over it.” (Ouch! I actually said that.)
I realized my mistake later. Not when I was making his favorite sweet potatoes and marshmallows. Not when we were saying prayers and reading in bed that night. Not the next morning as I walked out to work with a kiss on his forehead. But, later, as I was driving home the next evening—stuck in traffic again—and preparing for a better evening. It dawned on me that on the previous night I had killed my child’s joy and excitement. Here are three practical ways that you can do the same this holiday season:
- Put on your frown and ignore smiles and laughter. There is no better way to kill joy when you come home from work, with a room of children excited to see you, than to “wear your day” on your face. If you have had a bad day, and your face shows it, and you ignore the fun and excitement of seeing your family in the evening, then you will surely set the tone. Your frown can be infectious, and lead to a handful of frowns on your spouse and children. Try it.
- Focus on your day, rather than their day. Another practical way to kill the joy of your family when you come home from work is by stealing it, tying it to a concrete block and throwing it into a lake. In other words, you should steal the opportunity from them when you walk into the house and focus on your day (whether good or bad). Don’t let them tell you about the dragons they slayed, the forts they built, the knock-knock joke they made up. Keep it all about you.
- Don’t ever say sorry. Sometimes you will realize that you are crushing your children’s joy and excitement and you will have the urge to correct yourself. But don’t. Instead, rationalize your actions, tell them to “Grow up!” in a stern voice, and bury any desire to apologize. Kids are smart enough to know when you messed up and they never need to hear those weak words, “I’m sorry.”
If you add family health issues, work demands, financial stresses and everyday family squabbles to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, you have a recipe for imbalance. In our household, while we experience all of these pressures right now, our kids need joy and excitement. And so do yours. So ignore my words.