Two years ago, I wrote these words in a post for Kveller: “We’re trying something new this year. Instead of giving gifts, we’re going to focus on experiences that honor Hanukkah for what it is, and don’t try to make it into something it’s not.”
Last year, I wrote a post titled, “An Obscene Amount of Princesses for Hanukkah” in which I described buying a ton of plastic Disney Princesses for the girls. After a long paragraph expounding on all of the possible problems with these toys, I finished the post by writing, “It’s certainly not my job to make them happy. But sometimes I get tired of following the rules and always trying to do the right thing. Sometimes I want to do something for my girls for no other reason than it makes them happy. Because that makes me happy, too.”
Hanukkah comes early this year (in case you hadn’t heard), so I’ve been hoarding toys from the discount racks at TJMaxx and CVS for a few weeks now. The pile in our basement now includes: plastic figurines of Doc McStuffins and all of her little stuffed friends, a LaLaLoopsy tree house, and two bathtub-friendly mermaid/Barbie/princess dolls in the form of Belle and Ariel. I can’t wait to give these toys to my daughters–no apologies, no excuses–just straight up commercial plastic fun.
Needless to say, my perspective has shifted a bit in the past three years, and despite how it might seem, I think I’m heading in the right direction. In fact, I think I’m finally figuring out what matters.
When I was a new parent, I was so desperate to be a good mother and to get everything right that I worried (by which I mean, obsessively researched and occasionally panicked) about everything: the brand of diapers we bought, what kind of laundry detergent we used on the baby’s clothes, whether or not their baby bottles were BPA-free, how far apart to spread the siblings, when and how to start solids, what kind of teething toy to use, how much time in daycare… the list goes on and on.
Because I didn’t know what actually mattered, I thought everything mattered. I had bought into a deeply alluring but ultimately false premise that what I do will determine who my children will become. If I don’t buy them that slutty Barbie, then maybe they won’t get an eating disorder in 10 years. If I introduce enough veggies early on, then my daughters will be healthy eaters all throughout their lives, and therefore less likely to get an eating disorder. If I can just steer them away from dressing up like a hyper-sexualized ladybug for Purim… well, you get the picture.
The problem with this approach is that it’s an illusion. I could spend each Hanukkah coming up with a ton of Pinterest-style crafts and educational games, and my girls could still grow up to be consumption-obsessed mall rats. The truth is that the “if, then” equation that I have spent so much of my adult life clinging to just doesn’t apply to the big picture of a life unfolding.
Except, perhaps, for this one: If I loosen up a little bit, then I might just have a little more energy available to focus on what really matters: my relationship with my children (and I might have a little more fun in the process).
If I am really concerned about my daughters’ future (which, of course I am), then the best thing I can do is stay connected to them: to spend time with them, to listen when they talk, and to let it be ok that they really want a little plastic DocMcStuffins doll for Hanukkah. There’s no way I will ever be able to shield them from the Disney juggernaut; the best I can do is teach them over time, in moments large and small, that I see who they are, and I love them no matter what they love.
The truth is that these two issues are not mutually exclusive; of course one can be a connected, attentive mother AND choose not to make Hanukkah about the toys, if that’s your gig. (And of course, one can give presents for Hanukkah while still honoring the spirit of the holiday.) But the truth is, it’s not my thing. I wish it were, I suppose. I wish I didn’t care about presents and that I cared more about cooking and that I could actually figure out Pinterest. But it’s just not me. I will read my children every Hanukkah book on our shelf (thank you, PJ Library!) 87 times over, but please, don’t ask me to fry them a latke.
What I am coming to realize is that my children don’t need a mother who lives out the highest possible values every time. They need one who is present, authentic, and honest about her limitations. The truth is, playing with my little plastic She-Ra doll is one of my fondest childhood memories, and I totally understand the joy of getting just the right toy that you have been asking for. Trying to get parenting right (whatever that is) every time leaves me feeling distracted, doubtful, and disconnected from my kids—the exact opposite from the kind of parent I want to be.
So, for get another year in a row, I’m buying my daughters plastic princesses for Hanukkah, and I can’t wait to get down on the floor and play with them together.
Image via Flickr/Solvemall.com