But the reality during Chanukah is that I start off feeling overwhelmed and end up exhausted. I'll have a child who sulks because things didn't go his or her way, and everything we plan will become more stressful than magical.
Our expectations of Chanukah -- or any holiday -- are often exaggerated by childhood experiences, for better or for worse. If we have happy childhood memories, we sometimes go to great lengths to try replicate that experience for our kids, which they may or may not appreciate as we did. Those who missed out on the holiday fun are sometimes determined to create it for their children. Factor in an adult partner's traditions that don't exactly mesh with your own and Chanukah could become downright explosive.
Hollywood also ramps up holiday expectations, especially in regard to family relationships. Movies and television shows sow the idea that conflicts with a parent, sibling or spouse will be resolved during the holiday, and that dinner will end with a makeup session. The reality is that holidays tend to increase tensions between family members who don't already get along rather than resolve them.
Gone are the days when mothers had the luxury of time to trade recipes and make goodies from scratch, let alone make a perfect latke. In addition to work, mothers must also juggle car pools, homework, Hebrew school, soccer practice and play dates.
Life is busier and more chaotic than ever, but that need not take a toll on tradition. Developing realistic expectations will help balance what's possible during the holiday season.
Talk About It
Walk through the holiday agenda with your child -- let them know who will visit, who will be staying in your home and for how long, and when the celebration will take place. This kind of preparation gives children a sense of order so they can focus and enjoy the activity at hand. Also, discuss with kids the difference between what we wish for and what will really happen. Talk about how advertisers tempt us into buying a product and how toys don't always work as portrayed in commercials; it's never to soon to be an educated consumer.
No More Hype
Be a role model for your kids and take delight in simple joys during the season. Plan fewer events and schedule more family time. Turn off the TV, take out old photo albums and just talk. You can set up a family board game night or take a walk together as a family.
Do a Good Deed
Another December dilemma is the variety of volunteer opportunities present this time of year. You can bring your children with as you help at a soup kitchen, bring baked goods to a nursing home, take clothes and toys to a shelter. It's a mitzvah to give to others, and the holiday time is just as good as any to begin a positive habit.
Do It Again and Again and Again
Family rituals and traditions are the way we manage our expectations and stay grounded in reality. Never eliminate a tradition. Tradition equals comfort for both parent and child. But don't forget to forge a new tradition that brings your family together and provides everyone with a spiritual focus.
Donna Becker is the preschool director at Temple Beth Haverim in Agoura Hills.