The holidays add a season of magical hustle and bustle unlike any other. Part of what makes it unique and stressful is that it is a period of inflation: we spend more money than usual, we shop more than usual, we spend more time with family than usual, we eat more than usual, our waistlines expand more than usual, and we have an influx of material possessions that we affectionately call gifts.
So much effort goes into the gift prior to it being wrapped. Most of the time you: ponder what to get your loved ones for days, research the gifts to make sure it perfectly matches what you have in mind, make sure the gift idea fits within your budget, then you test your patience while you shop for it and wait in agonizingly long lines to pay for it (or go the easy way of online purchasing from the comfort of your pajamas), hide the present, carefully wrap the gift, and tuck it under the Christmas tree as the family waits in anticipation for that special day. All this happens so that your kids can tenaciously or gently tear that seemingly wasteful wrapping paper, dispose of it on the floor and marvel at your gift. All those hours, resources and energy invested! All this, for minutes of a moment. In that moment, as your eyes imprint your child’s elation, joy and gratitude into your memory, it all feels worth it. The love that deepens resulting from the time and effort you put in paid off.
Notice the often neglected gift wrap in that picturesque moment. Poor shiny gift wrap…it’s cheap cost obnoxiously chipped away at our holiday budget with little dividends, and it seems wasteful and impractical. It served its momentary purpose by concealing and safeguarding your gift from prying hands and inquisitive eyes. The beautiful paper loses its value even more as it gets ripped apart and gets carelessly tossed to the floor as it goes from spoiler alert deterrent to worthless trash. It lays crumpled, rejected and lifeless as it awaits its destiny for the trash can while you capture that joyful moment.
Pay closer attention to the power of the gift wrap and the emotions it created. Your child had to be patient as he or she gazed longingly at the present. Your child was filled with wonder and anticipation of finding out what was underneath. The mystery was about to be solved! Your child happily tore the paper that led to joy as the paper revealed the gift underneath. The identity of what was hidden has been shared! As the parent, you were present and navigated those emotions with your child. You shared in the happiness of revealing what was hidden and it led to more depth and love in the relationship. It turns out the gift wrap did good things, to ultimately led to something greater that went beyond the gift itself.
Parenting, teaching, talking through difficult subjects and navigating difficult situations can be like this experience. It takes a lot of investigation, learning, patience, it’s a drain on our parenting resources and there’s no parenting equivalent of the easier alternative like online purchasing provides.
Unlike how your child quickly and happily opens presents, unearthing your child’s struggles is very hard work. Your kids can pack what seems like yards of thick hard giftwrap in attempts to safeguard or conceal what’s underneath. There is a lot to draw from opening gifts this holiday that you can use to remind your child about to try and get to what’s going on. You can remind them that talking to you is a safe, shared experience. You can talk about how the anticipation of opening presents was fun but hard. You can parallel that with how hard life would be to live like that when we don’t share our feelings and experiences for a long time, because concealing leads to wondering if we'll ever get what we really wanted all along. You can talk about how sharing what’s going on brings relief, happiness and peace that was mutually experienced when the identity of the issue was revealed like the gift wrap did with the present. Your child may need help with putting words or feelings to this as you reflectively listen. Share how more loved you both feel for opening and navigating the struggles together.
There is a magical tenacity to how a child goes to any length to unwrap presents. As parents, unwrapping our child’s struggles requires the same attitude. They aren’t easy and they aren’t always fun. But the good work you invest into helping your child open up, always leads to greater things. It will be worth it, for what will ultimately lead to a multitude of moments.