It’s that magical time of year when our mailbox begins to fill up with sights and signs of the upcoming holidays! But, oh no – I’m not talking about Christmas cards and fancy invitations to yuletide cocktail parties, that feature attractive words like “adults only” and “Mistletoe Moscow Mule” – I’m talking about the real telltale indicators that the holidays are upon us: non-perforated 20% off coupons to Toys R Us, Target’s giant, children’s’ Wish List-maker and winter solstice catalogs from Anthropology, thinner than the models that adorn it’s 11, over-priced pages.

Now, I love Christmas as much as the next gal, but I just cannot get emotional invested in the birth of Jesus, when I still have six perfectly good pumpkins on my front porch. I literally just decided on which desserts and corresponding billowy top would be featured at our Thanksgiving dinner, and simply do not have the emotional energy to think about writing letters to Santa Claus.

Because I am too busy mustering up all my strength to fight off the onslaught of negative…everything, that has been leeching into the world around us.

So, if you’re reading this blog and you’re anything like me (a tired mother who got a babysitter for the afternoon, so that she could buy the aforementioned billowy top and write a blog about the children she is paying someone to watch…) I feel that I can safely assume that perhaps you feel the same way. And that perhaps, you are looking for some ways to fight of said negative…everything.

It certainly won’t be easy, but I am bound and determined to use this moment in time to turn my family on its heels – to use this pimple in our country’s history to begin cultivating a rich sense of empathy in our children, so in our house, we’re implemented a few holiday-friendly strategies to help do just that.

  1. Let ’em shop

Many of you are probably extremely familiar with Operation Christmas Child, but until I moved “down south”, it had never been on my radar. For those of your who aren’t familiar, OCC is a part of Samaritan’s Purse and works to provide a shoebox full of Christmas gifts to children all over the world. In years past, I’ve collected the shoeboxes from our church, and neglectfully left them in the backseat of my car until well after the deadline had past – never mentioning it to my kids. Supermom, right? But this year, Brian and I took the boys and their shoeboxes to Target and let them personally shop for and select the gifts they wanted to give to each friend. We explained that some children don’t have gifts to open on Christmas morning and that this was our opportunity to show these children love. I was blown away by their enthusiasm toward giving. And not only that, I almost boohoo-ed in my coffee the next day, when Archie came up to me at breakfast and said, “I’m glad that my girl is gonna like her toothbrushes.” A full 24-hours later (that’s like almost a full calendar year in toddler time), my two-year-old was still thinking about the power and importance of giving.

2. Work it out!

My kids fight. My little one is an instigator. My bigger one is a tattletale. It’s a recipe to drive even the best mother (not me) to drink. Based very loosely on the Connected Child and Love & Logic theories, we’ve begun using a few key phrases when the eyebrows in our house begin to turn slanty. “Work it out” and “Find a compromise”, have become our mantras – and I have to say, based on some very informal observations, we’ve seen some actual change ’round the old dress up box. Our guinea pigs, I mean our children, have actually begun talking through their problems/feelings/rationale for needing to be the only Batman in the house, and seem to be acquiring a glimmer of empathy for how their brotherly counterpart might be feeling. It certainly isn’t a perfect system, but if they can stretch themselves just a little bit to try and understand how another human being is experiencing life – that gives me hope. A far-reaching hope, but also a hope that there won’t be hair-pulling over gifts on Christmas morning.

3. Non-gift traditions

Presents kick ass. I love getting presents. I love giving presents. Presents are the jam. But presents aren’t everything. However, trying to explain that to a five-year-old with a red marker, who is eyebrow-deep in a toy catalog, is pretty much impossible. This is why we’ve decided to create (and continue) a few, non-gift related Christmas traditions in our family. One of my favorites is one that my family has been doing since I was a little girl – The Little Christmas Angel. Each night, the Little Christmas Angel flies around your home spreading Christmas joy. She doesn’t spy on you and report if you’re naughty or nice (because the message of her story is that all children are good) – she simply flies to a new spot in your home each night, sprinkling love and then waits for you to find her the next morning! She’s kind of awesome. When we spend Christmas with Brian’s family, each sub-family is required to create a skit to perform on Christmas Eve. These skits range from freaking amazing to woefully sub-par (and these are generally the ones that feature a performance by yours truly, which is why no video evidence exists anywhere on the internet, so don’t even bother looking). We try to put a lot of emphasis on these non-gift traditions, so that we can focus on the reasons we celebrate and the reasons love should always be the central theme.

Because whether it’s the holidays or just some random Tuesday – that is the message I want to send to my children: Really and truly love one another.

It’s all that really matters.