THE BLOG
12/19/2011 08:59 am ET Updated Feb 18, 2012

The Holiday Madness Cure

There is probably no greater gulf between "what is" and "what is supposed to be" than around the December holidays. Blame the media, blame the movies, blame whoever you want for hyper-sizing our expectations. Truth is, we and our families are imperfect and no amount of holiday gift wrap will cover those imperfections.

We need a coping guide for the holidays, and here's mine.

Start with the understanding that it's just a romanticized notion that everyone should be gathered around the fireplace chatting up a storm, where nobody is drinking too much or texting their friends about how they wish they could be any place else on the planet but here. In the fantasy-only version of the holidays, the house is spotless, there's no foreclosure notice on the door, and you haven't for a nanosecond thought about who you could possibly regift the foot massager to.

Truth is, our lives aren't Hallmark moments. Holiday stress grows along with our to-do lists. The real killer comes, however, when we try to measure our lives up against the fantasy of what we are told the holidays and holiday spirit should be -- the version we see in all the commercials and TV shows. And here's a news flash: We all come up short, it's just that some of us admit to it more readily.

Me? I prefer to sit the craziness out. We light our Menorah each night of Hanukkah and exchange small gifts only. We make a point to donate whatever we can to the Chinese orphanages who loved and cared for our children before we brought them home, and to the rescue groups that did the same for our doggies. I try especially hard to send something to Operation Smile, the group who repaired my daughter's cleft lip when she was three and made her life in China so much better. As for Dec. 25, that's the day we met our son in Hangzhou and we have our own "gotcha day" traditions that focus on him and no one else.

When it comes to the holidays, I set boundaries and won't let anyone pressure me into crossing them: Yes to the school holiday concert, no to the classroom party that follows. Yes to the synagogue latke-making, no to the community sing-along. Yes to the neighbor's party I can walk to, no to anything that takes me within a mile of the mall.

Freeing myself of others' expectations is liberating. So, stop checking your mailbox for a holiday card from me, but if you'd like, I'm happy to email you a couple of recent photos of the kids.

Holidays, whichever ones you celebrate, are stressful this time of year. I tend to agree with my devout friends on this one when they say, if you keep it to just the religion, things feel better. But for the millions who don't and who instead transform the month of December into a non-stop gift-giving, party-going, food-eating overindulgence from which it takes the full month of January to recover, my sympathies because I know that things can get positively awful.

There were some things that Archie Bunker nailed right on the money and perhaps this is one of them. He said, "The Bible, if ya read it you'd know. It's right in the beginning there, in the Book of Generous." Let's all go forth and be generous.