Bonus: For FREE, you can download a PDF of my book, The Happy Squire: Christmas stories to encourage and inspire, at http://www.chaddavid.ca/books/
For this scenario, I should point out that my immediate family was supposed to get together at my mom’s for my sister’s birthday, but my brother’s kids were all boogery, so we delayed it to the following weekend. The following weekend, my kids were all boogery, so we delayed it again. The following weekend, my brother’s kids were boogery again – fun. That’ll teach my sister for having a birthday in cold season; November was a bad choice. On one of the Sundays of this boogery month, my wife and I had the following conversation:
- Wife: I wish we could’ve had a birthday gathering for your sister here this weekend even if it was just your sister and mom.
- Me: No you don’t.
- Wife: Yes, I do.
- Me: That would’ve been a terrible idea.
- Wife: Why?
- Me: Because you were exhausted yesterday (Saturday) and needed to nap today to recover. If you had a party to plan, that would’ve put you over the top.
- Wife: I would’ve kept it simple.
- Me: No, you wouldn’t because you can’t. You always go overboard, especially with cleaning. Remember last weekend when we had two very non-judgemental friends over and you went crazy cleaning?
- Wife: I would’ve been more relaxed with your family.
- Me: Maybe… for part of the day, but then two hours before they arrived, your guilt and fear would kick in and you’d go crazy cleaning. You were already tired and this added stress would’ve caused you to be snappy at the kids and then angry at me for not stopping them from doing what was making you snappy at them. Later, you’d feel guilty about it taking away from the good thing you did for my sister.
- Wife: (pausing and looking at me confused) You’re probably right.
- Me: You have a wonderful heart with very good intentions, but you’re terrible for putting way too much pressure on yourself to make things perfect.
- Wife: I know. I don’t know why I do that.
- Me: I do. You’re a woman, and women are stereotypically so generous they set themselves up for failure while at the same time being too hard on themselves for not being able to do everything as perfect as they think it should be.
- Wife: I don’t know if I should be angry at you or not for that comment.
- Me: How about instead of being angry, you make a birthday cake for my sister… that we eat ourselves?
This is the issue of well-intentioned people: They get excited at helping or doing something special… when they’re already stretched too thin. The reality is there is only so much time and energy available, but well-intentioned people get so caught up in the idea of doing something good that they forget they don’t have ability to do it… until it’s too late. Thus, instead of feeling good for being considerate, they end up feeling shame for trying to do something good but falling short of their goal or they go the opposite and feel resentment at others. Being overwhelmed leads to one of those two options: “I suck,” or “You suck.” Neither is good… which I’m sure you knew already, but I feel better pointing it out.
Heading into the holiday season, well-intentioned people are particularly at risk of pushing themselves too hard. In general, these people struggle to say no, but at Christmas, it gets even harder because they feel this need to make everyone happy in a bigger way than usual. What’s strange to me is my best memories of Christmas are simply having a day without any stress to do homework. As a workaholic, relaxing guilt free was the best gift of all. Sometimes the best way to enjoy Christmas is to simply be with people.
After this situation, my wife thanked me for reminding her having people over wasn’t an option, so she didn’t have to feel guilt about it. As her partner, that’s part of my role. She also said that I know her better than she knows herself. I’d say she knows herself pretty well (she is married to a therapist who by nature asks a lot of questions), but she can be blinded by wanting to do something special. She needs to remember that just because you want to help, sometimes you can’t.
Here are four phrases well-intentioned people need to consider this holiday season for themselves:
- I’m aiming for good enough and not perfection.
- It’s better to be a little messy and happy than perfect and stressed.
- Perfection and fun rarely go together.
- It’s better to do a couple things well than a lot of things exhausted or miserable.
And here are two phrases to practice saying to others:
- Thank you for thinking of me; that means a lot. Let’s plan something for January.
- That’s a great idea. How about we plan on doing that (give a different day in the future).
Tip for Well-Intentioned People: Keep a paper calendar of everything going on in November and December to mark out when things are happening. This should include set rest days and back up days to do errands we missed. This can help you know when to say no or how to readjust your schedule to talk to people. A calendar also lets you show your partner what’s happening and get them to help do a few things to lighten the load (or they can tell you you’re doing too much). It’s hard to enjoy anything if all you want to do is nap, especially if you still have a giant list of things to do.
This holiday season may you enjoy yourself more and have less stress, especially when stress lowers our immune systems and can cause us to miss all that we planned on doing in the first place.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)