My breath quickens when I hear “do less” each Advent. As my heart starts to race, I think, “There’s no way that’s what they really mean!” My heart can’t prepare room unless I know that everything is done. In a cultural climate where Christmastime gets thrown into fifth gear even earlier each year, I try to obey. I try to do less. Or at least I do less until the third Sunday in Advent, when what I call my “joy” running around like a maniac takes over as I attempt to get all the things accomplished.
Who am I fooling?
I try to apply the principles of slowing down to parenting. In this period of extreme parenting, there is pressure to parent on a larger scale. The past nine months have been a perpetual panic for almost every aspect of parenting. No matter what schooling trajectory we chose for our children (or what was chosen for us), parents are expected to be more fully invested in their children’s social, physical, and academic development than we were just last year. All other personal expectations haven’t changed; in fact, they have probably expanded as well.
As I watch my children try to navigate this new world alongside us, I hear their requests (read: demands) loud and clear. They are uncomfortable in this new normal. They don’t know what will change again tomorrow, and they desperately want the predictability of the world they used to know. As their parents, they’re hoping we can point them back.
Problem is, pointing them back comes with an extraordinary amount of work. Parents are worrying about things we didn’t know we needed to worry about in 2019. And in many cases, our support networks have severed, or at least, reduced to a screen instead of a hug.
I knew I wanted to do less during this Advent season, setting aside the perpetual panic of this time. I also wanted to be more fully present, more invested in their schoolwork, and giving back to our community. Recognizing that these two desires were contradictory when attempted simultaneously, I spent a moment in reflection on what “parenting small” meant in this climate. And it took me right back where my faith journey began.
I rode down the winding country road this past fall to my childhood church, where generations of my family still attend. On a brisk October afternoon, we buried my grandmother, after ninety-one years with us. Given the pandemic, and that many of her friends and family had already joined the saints in glory, we expected a small crowd. Which was fine, since the church itself could only hold nine people with our Bishop’s guidelines.
We walked down the broken-up cobblestone to the rear of the cemetery and the site witnessed was something to behold. Around the perimeter of the cemetery were the people who made up my childhood: neighbors, distant cousins, great aunts and uncles, good friends of my grandparents. They were standing, masked, ten feet apart, to say goodbye to the woman who had given them so much.
After the service, I was struck by what people told me about my grandmother’s legacy.
“She drove me to school for years.”
“Her soup was the best when I was sick.”
“She came and sat with me when my husband died.”
And what I remember from my own childhood: when we needed her, she was always there. She built her life around her family and community by giving back what they needed, which was always simpler than anyone imagined.
What small moments will my family remember about our time together, particularly in the strange barrage of memories that compose this year? I can say with confidence they will not remember the efficiency with which I did laundry. They are not concerned with the accomplishments listed on my resume, how many PTO events I coordinated, or if my student evaluations met the benchmark.
Maybe it will be the mornings I worked from the front seat of the car so they could play on the community playground when it wasn’t crowded. Perhaps they’ll remember our conversations over the tea the contactless delivery brought by mistake. Or maybe they’ll laugh at how Mom panicked every time we lit the low-budget, homemade Advent wreath, convinced it would go up in flames.
Advent calls us to drown out the busy, the hustle, the drive to accomplish just one more thing. In our pandemic parenting, the call threatens to go ignored, for fear that we will miss supplying our children with what they need, in a setting where so much has been taken away.
I hope our call this year is to parent smaller, taking the opportunity to enjoy the moments right in front of us. The small, seemingly insignificant things we do on a daily basis are likely what will be celebrated at the end of our days. As the only constant, our presence and basic care might be exactly what our children need.