Kids These Days: Parenting, politics, and play during the holiday season

A few days ago I was having coffee with a new friend of mine at her house, both of us in our pajamas. We talked about our children and parenting, her recent transition to a new job, and a conference I had just returned from. It was everything I wanted from a gathering of friends, small and intimate and easy.

I left my friend’s house wondering how I could use the experience of being in her company to inform my approach to the holiday. Coordinating family gatherings in the midst of a global pandemic has felt like walking into a field of landmines in recent years. The politics and the risks to public safety have intensified challenging communication within families. Boundaries and accommodations are weaponized to center some family members and erase the most basic needs of others.

For me, the stress of Covid is exacerbated by the long-term impact of race, class and gender dynamics within the context of a multiracial family. There is the alienation of members of my family who are Trump enthusiasts, and the tension around mitigation strategies. I struggle with how the holidays represented dissolution and stress for me in many ways. I feel a bit like the grinch or at least a #HolidayHater.

Above and below: Scenes from Ali Muldrow’s family Thanksgiving celebration

However, my kids started playing Christmas music as soon as the first snow fell. I want them to grow up to show up for the party and love their people and know that the adults will put their hard feelings aside and make these days special. Our oldest child is good at defying expectations and reclaiming things as her own; her idea is to do christmas in pajamas making it a day of relaxation and snacks. Our middle child wants the whole day to be about playing and going to the movies. Our one year old is along for the ride and thrives in the back seat of the car with both her sisters listening to music while we road trip to visit family.

This holiday season, I make room for myself, for traditions of self-care and rest. If that means store-bought pie, so be it. If that means gift bags rather than wrapping presents, I’m leaning in. I promised that this year’s winter break would feel like a break, because that’s what I need. More importantly, maybe that’s just the kind of mom I am.

Growing up, my mother did everything she could to make the holidays magical. To this day, she cooks epic meals and decorates impeccably, showering everyone with warmth and acceptance. As a child, I assumed that I would accept the role my mother had mastered for the joy it brought others, but I didn’t. I am not my mother or her fantastic expressions of holiday joy. Instead, I’m the kind of mom who wants to sleep in and give my partner a gift card for couple’s massages.

The point is, my beloved reader, the holidays are difficult for many of us for many reasons. What I wish for you is the same thing I wish for myself: space for what we really want and need from this season. It’s about reimagining traditions and reinventing how we authentically display and honor ourselves while giving permission to those around us to do the same. This holiday season is my chance to consider what my friendships and chosen family have taught me about love.

Until December, dear reader, I leave you with the following:

“Live in the moment and make it so beautiful that it will be worth remembering.”

– Fanny Crosby

November parenting question: What holiday traditions are you passing on to your children?

November Politics Question: What are the hot button topics your family struggles with but can’t ignore or avoid?

November Game Question: How do you use the holidays to embrace creativity with your kids whether it’s your menu or decorations?

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