As a mother of three with another on the way, I have a love/hate relationship with the holiday season. I love having my family together for meals. I love the community feeling that surrounds these weeks, and I love how excited my kids get celebrating the holidays. I hate figuring out when I am supposed to cook while still showing up to work on a regular basis. I hate feeling as if the very little time I allot for myself in a given week totally vanishes, and I hate that feeling at the end of the holidays when I realize that the holidays were a wonderful, meaningful experience for everyone except for me. But that can be avoided this year with these four tips:
Set your own personal goals: I always have this idea that this year the holidays are going to be personally meaningful for me, and, yet, what does that really mean?
In order to really feel as if you got out of the holidays what you wanted, you need to be very clear and honest with yourself as to what that means. Make sure to set goals that are specific enough to know when you’ve accomplished them and also attainable enough that you aren’t setting yourself up for failure. Don’t think to yourself, “I really want to reflect on this past year and think about where I want to be a year from now.” Instead, think, “As part of my reflection process, I want to find one area in which I can improve and choose three different tools or strategies I can use to do that.” Additionally, in order to add to your chances of accomplishing your personal goals, set aside time, just like an appointment, to work on your goals. We make appointments for our physical well-being (dentist, haircut, massage and facial – in our ideal world!); the same should go for setting specific time to work on our spiritual well-being.
Consider your kids’ needs for this time of year: While our focus may be trying to find our own personal time during such a busy time, let’s face it, that won’t happen unless our kids are happy (or at least quiet). Most temples and synagogues offer childcare during services for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Yes, sometimes this childcare is pricey (especially when considering the costs of multiple kids), but if the alternative is your chasing kids around the hallway instead of hearing the shofar (a ram’s-horn trumpet) or staying home with your kids when you want to be or feel like you should be in services, the cost of the childcare is really very small relative to the cost of your sanity (and I speak from experience based on the one year we chose not to register for childcare in order to save the money, and I spent three days sitting on the floor building Legos thinking about how this was not the holiday experience I’d planned).
Also, think about what your kids will be doing after services, if they won’t be at school. My kids go crazy if they are in the house for longer than 48 minutes without structured activities, so possible solutions include arranging afternoon playdates, going for a walk to the park, hosting families with kids for meals, checking out holiday-related books from the library, and even resorting to bribery by conveniently making sure there are treats and new toys in the house for times of need.
Stay organized: Make lists; make lots of lists. After you’ve made the lists, schedule yourself times to accomplish what is on the list. Make an appointment with yourself to go grocery shopping. Make an appointment with yourself to cook or tidy the house or send out holiday greeting cards. Take these appointments very seriously, and if you have to reschedule, make sure you actually reschedule. Also, make sure you pay attention to your kids’ school schedules. With kids at different schools, I can personally attest to how different the school schedules are during this year, and the worst realization is when you have a whole day of errands and tasks set, and then you realize that you won’t be alone because it’s a school vacation.
Be realistic: The key to enjoying the holiday season is really to be realistic about your expectations and goals. If you have never been one to find personal meaning in a synagogue prayer service, don’t assume that maybe this will be the year that changes; find a book that inspires you or take advantage of some of the learning opportunities that many organizations offer during this time of year. If your house is always a mess because you have kids running around non-stop, don’t plan to have everything immaculate for the dinner you are hosting; no one is coming to your house to count how many super hero figurines are on the floor, and if they are, they should probably be forced to eat those figurines. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. No matter how much we wish we could or we pretend we can, none of us can do everything, and many of us have people nearby waiting to help. So let them help. It will make everyone happier.
Ultimately, there are only 23 days from the first day of Rosh HaShanah to Simchat Torah, which is only about 6% of a year, and each of the holidays will happen whether or not you’ve made the right foods, decorated your house properly, or led your family in a spiritual retrospection. Before you know it, we’ll have moved from the Hebrew month of Tishrei and onto the Cheshvon, and it’ll be time to start dusting of the Chanukah candles in preparation for Kislev, so, whatever you do, take a moment to enjoy this time with your family and friends. Plus, Shabbat comes once a week and provides a nice opportunity for a do-over whenever you need it!
Dr. Sarah Levy has been involved in the field of Jewish education for nearly fifteen years, currently serving at the Director of Adult Education for the Colorado Agency for Education. She lives in Denver with her husband, Benny, and their three kids: Itai, Batya and Ori.