Creating a Nourishing Holiday Atmosphere

So many things contribute to making up the atmosphere of your home. I think that all of us want an atmosphere that is nourishing for our children. The atmosphere is where your students can tell what’s important to you outside of school lessons. So today we want to give you some ideas for creating a nourishing atmosphere during the holidays. Joining me today is my friend and coworker, Laura Pitney.

Sonya: Laura, it’s great to have you back. We want to talk today about creating an atmosphere in your home during the holidays—but not just any atmosphere. There are many atmospheres we could create, but we want a nourishing atmosphere: one that nourishes the spirits and emotions and, yes, the bodies of our children. Talk a little bit about that. 

Laura: Yeah, trying to find the right balance in how we nourish our children and our family is really important. It’s not only protecting us from the busyness and the comparison and all the crazy of life in general, but especially during the holiday season, it’s really important to be purposeful about what you do and how you do it. Holidays are a great time to stop and evaluate what’s really important to you and to your family. 

Sonya: That’s true, because when you set aside schoolwork during holiday season, however long that might be … I’m not necessarily recommending you set it aside for six weeks. Some people might be able to. 

Laura: Sign me up! (laughs)

Sonya: But we do seem to have more extended time of no schoolwork during those holiday seasons, and that’s the time when atmosphere can really make an impression. 

Laura: Yes, and sometimes we really thrive in the routine of things, knowing what our schedule’s going to be and what we need to accomplish. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to not have a schedule or to not know what your days look like, especially when your children are smaller. If you really take the time and be purposeful about what you do during your off-time, it really is a happy place to be. So, for instance, if it’s a time you want to catch up on things around your house, or if it’s a time where you want to redo your book basket for those favorite holiday books, or maybe you want to create an hour every day in your schedule where you come together as a family to talk about seasonal topics. It’s that time of connection. 

How your home functions supports that emotional nourishment we’re talking about—we’ll talk more about that in a second—you can be conscious of the little things, physically, in your house that bring life. It could be changing out a tablecloth, getting that special candle out, or doing an activity or puzzle; the items look different for everybody. But they start triggering memories, traditions, and time together. If you can evaluate what works for you and when you can make it happen, those physical items, and how your home functions, really flow into that nourishment physically. Having rest time, downtime, that could be a difference in your schedule, letting your body rest. Or we talk about the “masterly inactivity” of time to process and think—all of that feeds into the right kind of nourishment and balance. 

Sonya: So, I’ve heard several aspects. I want to drill down into each one. This is great. You’ve talked about your calendar—your schedule. You’ve talked about the physical surroundings, what you see and hear and smell and all of that. And you’ve talked about the emotional aspect and your attitudes. So which one do you want to dive into first? 

Laura: I don’t know. You pick! 

Sonya: All right, let’s do them in that order. Let’s start with the calendar—your schedule.  One thing that has struck me lately: Charlotte said that wonderful quote, which I’m not going to say the quote exactly, but it was that the children are more apt to get into mischief when the day’s routine is out the window. She did not use that term.

Laura: Which is probably true. (laughs) 

Sonya: But it made sense. It finally clicked to me why that is so: because, when you have to constantly think about, “Well, what should I do next?” and come up with what to do next, that’s requiring a lot of effort. And you’ve put so much effort and energy into deciding what you should do that you don’t have as much effort and energy left over to contribute to self-control. It’s kind of a give-and-take situation. 

Laura: Yeah, and that really works well when you have younger children. They thrive with boundaries. They like to know expectations, and if anything gets off of the routine, it takes them a minute to pivot and do the next thing. 

Sonya: It can. But now you have… are they all high schoolers now? 

Laura: I have four teenagers at the moment. 

Sonya: Four teenagers now. Alright, so talk to mothers of teenagers here. 

Laura: So, let me tell you some of my mistakes, how about that? (laughs) So, because I need to respect them as persons and young adults, if there’s something I’m envisioning for my home, let’s say, time together that we schedule on our calendar, I just have to communicate that to them. I’m respecting them and their time and their time commitments. My two older ones have jobs, so it’s hard to get all of us together. It just is. So the times that I want us to have a family dinner, or we have this tradition during the holidays where we really like to do puzzles together, it may be, “Hey, next Thursday, 1:00, be at the dining room table. We’re going to do a puzzle.” Planning those times of connection is different now that they’re older, versus when they were younger, it was a matter of still functioning and accomplishing the things, the nap times, all the things. And they just would follow my lead.

Sonya: Because they were always in the house, so it was just, “Hey, gather over here.” 

Laura: Right, so now I’m learning that it has to be scheduled. And I can’t get mad at them for not spending time with me if I didn’t ask them to spend time with me, or let them know, “Hey, I’m really missing you guys. We need to schedule a time together.” Because it doesn’t happen otherwise. And I hate to say that, but it’s a balance of me clearly communicating to them and also respecting what they have going on. Especially because they’re in that transition phase of making decisions for themselves. And then it’s, “Hey, I’m still your mom! Don’t forget about me!” 

Now that we’re past a lot of the nitty-gritty traditions that we did during the holidays in the past, they look forward to it. Or we’ll get together and they’ll be like, “Remember when Mom did this crazy thing?” or, “Remember when we went outside and made this with nature stuff?” Our connection is reminiscing about the earlier traditions, or the things that I tried that epically failed. (laughs) It’s fun to get their perspective now. And that’s a different way of connecting with them.

Our connection is reminiscing about the earlier traditions, or the things that I tried that epically failed. It’s fun to get their perspective now. And that’s a different way of connecting with them.

Sonya: Do you give them some input into what those together-times will look like now? 

Laura: I do, because I have four very opinionated children. I share with them my thoughts for what I would like to do with them. And some of them will be like, “That’s stupid. I don’t want to do that.” Or some of them might be like, “That sounds great!” So again, it’s a life lesson that, first of all, it’s not always convenient. It may not be something they want to do, but out of respect for me, or our family, or our time together, or when my husband’s off work, that’s just a life lesson that the important thing is being together. It’s not necessarily that they always like what we’re doing. I want them to like it, but there’s six of us, so somebody’s going to be the one who is miserable. (laughs) 

Sonya: Of course. That’s great. Are there any other tips about calendar and scheduling? I mean, that’s gold that you just shared.

Laura: Not other than, if they want to plan, I let them. If they show some initiative to want to do something—my oldest daughter loves to create the “Hallmark movie” in our home. Meaning, she wants the memorable moment, or she wants the baking cookies in the oven while she wears her apron, thing like that. She wants the, I don’t know, that feeling of the atmosphere in that way. So she’ll come to me with an idea and I’m like, “That sounds great. Have fun doing that, because it’s probably beyond me at this point.” (laughs) 

Sonya: The baking cookies, I know, would not be your happy place. 

Laura: Right, so I’ll buy what she needs or get the groceries. If they show initiative, let them do it. That’s of value to them, and I don’t want to kill their love of creating their own traditions. Or as they come up with ideas, if I can foster it, I want to do that. 

Sonya: I’m going to assume, though, that you do agree to some things that are not your happy place. 

Laura: Oh, 100 percent. 

Sonya: Just like you expect some of the children to agree. 

Laura: Right. Well, I’ve always said, and I know this is probably not great parenting advice, but train your children to do the things you don’t want to do. (laughs) It’s interesting to see how when you give them the variety of chores or responsibilities, some will really latch onto something and learn to love it and enjoy it, and others are like, “You know, I really don’t like this. Can I try a different chore?” So again, it’s a physical, tangible way to give them a variety of options, where they can find their niche or groove of things they might not have been exposed to otherwise. 

Sonya: That’s great. Okay, let’s move to the physical surroundings, and how we nourish our children and ourselves with our physical surroundings. The two of us, just full disclosure here, we are complete opposites in this respect. I am like, “Just give me a blank room and I’m happy,” and you like to make it much more homey. So you have helped me get over all the blank surfaces in my house and find a good, happy medium there. But talk a little bit about the difference in personalities and how to find that happy medium. Why is it important? 

Laura: Yeah, I think that there is nourishment to our hearts when our eyes see beauty, just like when we see good pieces of art or when we’re out in nature. There’s just something about when we take in the beauty with our eyes, it just feeds our soul. It uplifts our hearts. For me, we’ve moved a lot over the years, and in whichever home we happen to be living in, we have certain things that we pull out of the holiday box and I get them out, whatever the season is, and they trigger the memories or the atmosphere. For me, it’s not necessarily having all the things but giving value to the things you do have. Right now with the teenagers, they love their fuzzy blankets, and so last year they all wanted winter-themed throw blankets, and so (I put them away for spring, summer, and fall) when I pull those back out that’s a memory for them. Physically they get that blanket out that they’re connecting to the atmosphere. That goes wherever you are. I used to put a lot more effort into decorating a lot of my home, which I still enjoy, but again, now that we’re all older, it’s more the memories and relations that are attached to the things. So that’s my take on it at this point in my life, if that makes sense. 

There’s just something about when we take in the beauty with our eyes, it just feeds our soul. It uplifts our hearts.

Sonya: I’m in somewhat the same situation, but a little bit different. Most of my kids are grown and out of the house now. With my personality, it’d be very easy to just not decorate at all. It’s like, why do I get it out, put it up, and then have to take it down again? Makes no sense. But I still have my youngest living with us, and she loves the family connections and memories and traditions that are attached to those things. So getting out the Christmas tree (we still have the old, old one that every branch comes out and they’re color coded and you’ve got to put each one in) is something we can do together and something she feels confident doing, because she’s done it for so many years with me. It is contributing to that nourishment. Even if you’re not decorating, for those moms and dads who are like, “Why clutter the place up?” I hear you, I’m with you, but even if you are not nourished necessarily by a lot of decorations, or however many decorations you can stand, one of your children might be. I know for certain personalities, it really feeds them.

Laura: Like the visual learners. Even when spring comes around and I change out some of our flowers and vases and, you know, just kind of freshen up for the new season, I mean even that’s uplifting. Even if holidays aren’t your thing, even if you do something a little seasonal, there’s just something about it that just brings out that connection and new life in you, which I feel is why God gave us season changes. You get head-down in the nitty-gritty and all of a sudden the leaves are changing and there’s new life there, and then winter and spring . . . it’s a beautiful thing to where our hearts need that change to renew the life in us. I know that sounds weird, but I feel like that’s how we were created. 

Sonya: Yeah, it does. You’re right. It’s like you’re head-down, and then suddenly you see something in nature that has changed, and it draws your heart back to the Creator and that’s what refreshes you. It’s like, oh yes, He’s faithful. We’ve got fall again, at just the same time every year. 

Laura: It’s a hard comparison—nature to living room throw blankets—but, it’s part of changing a few little things in your house. Or all the things in your house. I mean one of my sisters-in-law has decorations for every room of her house, and she thrives in that and she loves doing that. So whatever the scale, that’s going to look different for different personalities, but there’s value in nourishing your children and your family by those things in your home. 

Sonya: I like how you mentioned bringing beauty to your home and beauty can be evident in many different ways. Good. Okay let’s talk then about emotionally. 

Laura: Yeah, I don’t know. (laughs) I need some help emotionally too. So nourish me.

Sonya: Especially when you got four teenagers and hormones are raging, I’m sure. 

Laura: I think the biggest thing I can think of is giving them your time. That’s something that, during the holiday season, it is easy to be wrapped up in the busyness and the schedules and the obligations. If you’re scheduling the time to connect, that’s also going to nourish them emotionally. It’s a time of connection, so for me it is giving them the time, even if I don’t want to give it to them. Giving them that attention really shows them that I care, even if it’s five minutes. It doesn’t have to be three hours, but emotionally, it’s so they can talk and feel heard. They may not necessarily want to hear what you have to say, but there’s a lot of processing that happens whenever it comes out. You want to make sure you can be available to listen.

Sonya: Why is it so often that’s at 10:30 at night? 

Laura: Oh, 100 percent. So, we have this joke in our family right now. I get my pajamas on, I’m all ready for bed, I get in my bed, pull my covers up, and then I just wait. And within five minutes, all four of them are on the bed with me, and then Marvin will come in and be like, “Y’all know mom’s trying to go to bed, right?” and they’re like, “Oh yeah, we know!” And then eventually I have to just kick them out, but it’s some kind of signal. When I pull the covers up, they all just come. Every night. (laughs) 

Sonya: But that says something. That says a lot about their relationship with you, and that they know you will welcome them even when it’s inconvenient.

Laura: Then when I start not having words, or I’m holding my eyelids open it’s . . . 

Sonya: Nodding off between sentences.

Laura: The hardest part, honestly, with all of that, is they want one-on-one time, so they usually argue and fight over who needs to leave the room so that they can have me by themselves. So that’s been funny. So, it’s like, whoever wants to get in there first has time and then whoever stays the last has time and it’s just this whole ordeal. It’s hard to balance. It’s a competition.

Sonya: It sounds like it. But that time alone, yeah, is nourishing. And I suppose, during this, we could try to schedule some of that time, like, “I’m going to take child number one out for lunch this day,” or just out to get some sweet tea or something, or just for a walk around the mall. It doesn’t even have to cost any money. But you could potentially schedule one-on-one time with each child. 

Laura: Yeah, emotionally, when they’re younger, you’re trying to feed them with, “This is why we do things,” or, “This is the reason for this season,” or you’re trying to teach them why your family does what they do. As they grow, and start processing that and thinking about it, it’s a great opportunity for them to express back, “Why do we do this?” or, “When I was little I remember this, but now I see the world differently.” Or maybe they’ve been exposed to other family cultures, or other religions, or other whatever-it-is. For them to come to you to ask the questions or to process things, that’s a way you nourish them emotionally. You can help them find their own footing and understanding of why your family does what it does. Give them the time, and then as they start processing and thinking through things, usually good questions come from them, which lead to good conversations. It’s a connection there as well. 

Sonya: And really, that’s what atmosphere is: it is the ideas that are important to you as a parent, and how they are expressed in your home. So, your children are forming their own views on “Which ideas are going to be important to me?” And you have a chance to speak into that and share verbally what you’ve been demonstrating all along. 

Laura: Right, so until they’re ready for that—your 5-year-old may not go that deep—but as they get older, they’re going to remember. And traditions continue, or the different things you do as a family, such as maybe around Easter. We have a thing on Memorial Day and Veterans Day that we always go try to find a park or some kind of ceremony that honors veterans and things like that. So that’s not one of the major holidays, not one of the traditional ones like Christmas or Easter, but that’s something that we wanted to instill in our children: the value of our freedom and the cost of that freedom. They wouldn’t have understood that necessarily when they were younger, but now that we’ve gone over the gap, and now that we can talk seriously about wars and the cost of our freedom, there are opportunities and it’s been neat to see the kids make the connections on their own based on the atmosphere of our home. 

Sonya: Yes, you’re nourishing their minds as well as their hearts. And I think that’s a key here. As we look at the atmosphere we are creating, we keep in mind the reason we’re doing it is to nourish. Rather, it’s not an obligation, a duty, “I’ve got to get out the decorations,” but it is an opportunity to nourish them with beauty, and this is an opportunity to nourish them with myself, with time. This is an opportunity to nourish them with whatever it may be, but if we keep that in mind . . . 

Laura: It helps us stay motivated. 

Sonya: Yeah, and hopefully we’ll downplay that competition game, the comparison. Thanks.