I recently sat down with Jennifer Garner to talk about holiday traditions, as well as her favorite cause, Save the Children. Her passionate support for this organization is fueled by her deep concern for children. Jennifer talked about how much she feels for the mothers that Save the Children supports, aware of how overwhelmed they are with so few resources for addressing their children’s basic needs, but the universal longing to ensure their children are happy and well.
Our conversation about the demands of motherhood moved into one about preparing for the holidays. Jennifer still carries the poise of a dancer — she was a ballerina for many years, before shifting into acting and it’s easy to imagine her having the picture-perfect holiday table. But as the mother of two (with a third baby on the way) she confessed to having loosened her approach to the holidays by recognizing her limits.
Like all working moms, it’s easy to push to get things just right for family gatherings, but Jennifer acknowledged that she now lets people contribute to the big holiday meal rather than trying to do it all herself.
It’s an important lesson to keep in mind. I have seen far too many mothers in my counseling practice, like Diana* who I met with after Thanksgiving. As a busy working mom, she felt badly about not being the one to greet her kids with homemade cookies when they came home from school each day. To assuage her guilt, Diana decided that she would have a storybook Thanksgiving, from creating elaborate table settings to cooking complicated desserts. Because she was so exhausted and overloaded by the time everyone sat down to eat, each of her children, in turn, had a meltdown. The dinner, in her words, was “a disaster.” We talked about trying something different for Christmas, and by all accounts, she’s enjoying the season rather than trying to do the impossible.
Here are a few pieces of advice from Jennifer Garner about how she makes sure her family enjoys the holidays, with some extra tips from your Parent Coach:
Don’t pick on your picky eaters. Jennifer confessed to being picky herself; “I wouldn’t even eat pumpkin pie or sweet potatoes! Just turkey and rice! But have faith moms. It does change.”
The less you fuss over what your kids eat, the more everyone will enjoy the meal. Keep your eye on the prize: While it’s generally good for kids to taste new foods, holiday meals are for creating happy memories and spending time with each other. Don’t spoil the meal by creating power struggles with your children about what they have to taste.
Create your own holiday traditions. One of Jennifer’s favorites is a special tablecloth that they always use at the holidays. Each year, they trace the hands of whichever children are at the table onto the tablecloth with a Sharpie. They see the child’s growth reflected in their expanding handprint each year. “And if someone says something funny,” she said, “we write it next to the outline of their hand.”
Remember, it’s a party. “Let people bring their favorite dish, and don’t sweat the small stuff!”
Get your kids involved in creating their own dish, or decorating. Say “yes” to relatives who want to pick up a dessert; you don’t have to make everything yourself for it to be a successful meal.
The goal of a holiday gathering is to enjoy time with your family and friends.