Navigating The Holidays When You’re Estranged From Your Family

It’s been nearly a year since I “saw” my mother. I mean, I found her — face down and clinging to consciousness — in June. I stared at her (in her casket) in early July, and I’ve seen dozens of pictures of her before her death and since, but our last visit was last Thanksgiving.

She went to my mother-in-law’s for the free turkey and free booze.

I don’t remember what she wore that day. I know her hair, full of grease and grit, was slicked back. Held in place by a headband. Green, or possibly black. I know her face looked fuller than it had in months. Water retention, I thought. Alcoholism, I assumed. And her skin seemed yellowed.

She was brash and short-tempered.

She was wasting away.

But I didn’t say much. I let her talk about the weather and her hatred of Trump. She told me that man would be the fucking death of her. She talked about his asinine antics. Well, that and what was on TV. I let her play with her grandkids, something she was rarely able to do because alcoholism was stealing her identity. Because, years before, mental illness had stolen her mind. And I smiled. We posed for a picture together, the picture that would become our last, because during that visit I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t help my mother. I couldn’t save my mother, and I couldn’t pretend.

She was sick, and I was a child. 35 but still in many ways a kid.

“Family members become estranged for a variety of reasons,” Loren Lomme — a licensed counselor at Just Mind — tells Scary Mommy. “For some, estrangement can be consequential, i.e. individuals can and often do drift apart over time. Estrangement can be intentional. You may be alienated and/or alienate a particular family member or even a whole family unit.” And some estrangements are more about setting boundaries than setting people aside — and that was the case with me.

For my mental health, I had to step back.

For my sanity, I had to step away.

Of course, setting boundaries was tough. I felt embarrassed and ashamed — of her predicament and my absence. I was angry. Angry I couldn’t do more, and that she couldn’t get her shit together, and I felt (and still feel) guilty, like I was abandoning her. Plus, I missed my mother, not the person she became but the woman she was. The one who studied spelling words with me in the kitchen. The one who played hide and seek with me even though my spot never changed. I was always in the laundry basket in the hall. I also missed her presence: at Christmas, during birthdays, and at my son’s baby shower.

I told strangers I had no family.

My father died when I was 12, leaving me to grow up (more or less) alone.

Of course, the reality is I was and am not alone. Millions of Americans have experienced alienation, dissociation, and separation by and from their family. In fact, one study found more than 40% of participants had experienced family estrangement at some point — suggesting that in certain groups, such as U.S. college students, estrangement may be almost as common as divorce. But knowing you are not alone doesn’t make things happier or easier. For many — like myself — the holidays are still hard. Plus, the “are you going to your parents house” question is the fucking worst. But there is help.

Here are six tips and tricks to help you navigate this emotionally trying time of year.

Find appropriate ways to manage your stress.

Life is full of stressors, during the holidays and beyond; however, finding healthy and appropriate ways to manage your stress is imperative.

“One way to manage these uncomfortable emotions is to find a healthy outlet in which to express or experience them,” Lomme explains. “For some, this may mean journaling or meditating. For others, the outlet may be exercise or art. The aim is to quiet the mind and calm the nervous system.”

Make sure to exercise and eat right.

I know what you’re thinking here: You’re stressed. You’re depressed, and the last thing you feel like doing is getting up and moving. It just doesn’t feel right. But physical activity won’t just relieve stress — exercise releases endorphins, which make you feel good all day. The act can also serve as a valuable distraction from your daily worries. So walk, run, take a bike ride, or dance. Seriously. Just move.

Acknowledge your feelings. Don’t swallow or avoid them.

When you lose primary relationships in your life, it doesn’t just hurt like hell, the stress and anxiety of the situation can be overwhelming. “Common feelings of estrangement include sadness, shame, guilt, anger, frustration, disappointment, anxiety, loneliness, or stress,” Aaron Sternlicht — a licensed therapist at Family Addiction Specialist — tells Scary Mommy. However, it is important you acknowledge your feelings. Acknowledgment is the only way to process them and move forward.

“Individuals should talk with someone about their feelings, be it a close friend, a family member, or a therapist,” Sternlicht says, “because bottling up emotions often leads to mental health challenges. Conversely, talking about your feelings can help to release unpleasant emotions and examine unhealthy thoughts surrounding the relationship.”

Make a game plan for how you will handle each holiday, whether or not estranged family members will be present.

Hallmark tells you the holidays are supposed to be a joyous time. A happy time. A time of fun, filled with tree shopping, romance, and jaunts in the snow. But life isn’t like the movies. You cannot pick or “fix” your relationship with your family — particularly if said relationship is abusive, toxic, or just plain broken. But instead of focusing on what is lost, try and focus on what you have. 

Figure out what you want from the holidays. Time alone with warm cider and a good book? A low-key Christmas with your chosen family, your partner, loved one and/or your kids? Listen to yourself and follow your heart.

Limit your exposure.

Sometimes we can’t avoid seeing estranged family members, especially during holidays. However, according to Lomme, you can limit your exposure. 

“Establish boundaries for both yourself and others. Identify what you will need to manage any feelings that may come up during your get together, and schedule how and when you will leave. It may also be helpful to take breaks away from the family to check in with your emotions and de-escalate any stress that has come up. What’s more, if there are certain topics or behaviors that you know will cause an upset, you might find it helpful to create an exit plan ahead of time or let the estranged family member know that you are not willing to participate in conversations or interactions about those topics.”

Plan your out and/or an escape.

No matter where you are or what you decide to do, make sure you set time limits and have an exit plan. “Let your host know in advance that you will only be spending a certain amount of time with them,” Sternlicht says. Stick to your plan and know that, “if at any point you feel triggered and feel you need to leave, have an exit plan in place.”

That said, no matter what happens, remember: you are in control — of your wellbeing and your life. Take the time to love yourself and care for yourself. Realize you are not bad, if distance separates you and/or circumstances. And don’t be ashamed or afraid to say no. You are worth it, during the holidays and every day.

The post Navigating The Holidays When You’re Estranged From Your Family appeared first on Scary Mommy.

From The Confessional: We Are Coping By Clicking ‘Add To Cart’

Thanksgiving week, over the past few years, has become synonymous with amazing shopping deals—and this year they’re all online! Maybe the fact that we really can do all of our holiday shopping without putting pants on is the COVID silver lining?

But for some, the ease and instant gratification of online shopping has gotten out of control. What used to be a fun distraction or means for a “treat yourself” occasional splurge is now a full-blown obsession with no hopes of ever paying off the bill.

So this year, let’s remember to keep track of our spending, but also take advantage of the ability to stay out of stores and help stop this relentless COVID spread. Enjoy a hot cup of tea or glass of wine and do your shopping from your couch—you’ll love it and might never shop in a store again. Also, remember that your delivery workers are putting in long hours, so don’t forget to say thank you. Consider leaving a bottle of water, Gatorade, or soda and bag of treats on your porch to show your appreciation for the UPS delivery person who barrels down your street twice a day.

And if you spot a fab online deal, tell your mom and sister and bestie so they can get in on that action too—that’s the rule.

Happy shopping.

Confessional #25806067

“I've lied to everyone. I say I'm a minimalist, but I LOVE online shopping. I'm homebound, so deliveries give me something to look forward to. I make sure I never have an abundance of stuff, though.”

Confessional #25792525

“Got a birth announcement about my youngest cousin's first child, so I went on Amazon to get her some baby toys. Good LORD - I'd forgotten how deep a rabbit hole baby shopping can be!”

Confessional #25787185

“My son moved and I had the best time shopping for stuff for his new place.”

Confessional #11689674

“I love online shopping over going to the store, but add to it that hot man in his UPS uniform that delivers it and DAMN! I shop everyday. He should be here any minute.....”

Some people (and by “people” I mean me) LOVE online shopping. “Add to cart” is my favorite phrase ever, and my favorite emails include the word “delivered.”

Confessional #25795529

“I can’t stop shopping. It’s so embarrassing”

Confessional #25784762

“I've had to completely remove all my cards from my favorite shopping places. My shopping has gone out of control during this pandemic”

Confessional #25498556

“I’m addicted to online shopping on Etsy and smoking weed. I’m trying so fucking hard to stop, but my kids and being a work from home mom and my family history has made me miserable. Idk what to do”

Confessional #24838192

“I'm addicted to online shopping. We can afford my purchases but I really don't need more stuff. I do it because I'm bored.”

Confessional #16713020

“Six of the eight most visited websites on my cell phone are for online shopping”

However, it’s so easy and such a fun distraction that it can be hard to stop. Especially when those sneaky ads pop up convincing you that you NEED a light-up Grinch for your yard when you already have a blow-up Santa, blow-up reindeer, and giant candy canes lining your sidewalk (and also your bank account is bare).

Confessional #25794437

“I have been shopping online to deal with depression and it makes a horrid cycle. Spending too much makes me amxious, so I shop to feel better. How fucked up is that?”

Confessional #25758743

“I worry that the poor won't have access to goods or food because of online shopping. It's not a craze. It is a clear socioeconomic gap. And I work for Amazon!”

Confessional #18008360

“"I make too much money and am too old to still be this broke, in debt, and living paycheck to paycheck. I don't understand why things are this way." I say to myself as I fill my online shopping cart with more shit I don't need.”

Confessional #20812009

“Now that I have a little bit of extra money, I see how dangerous online shopping is going to be for me.”

The truth is, online shopping can get you into trouble. Because guess what’s coming in a few weeks? That credit card bill, sucker. Also, this is not an effective coping strategy for dealing with your mental health. All it’s going to do is drag you into debt, which isn’t good for anybody.

Confessional #18845730

“Every time my door bell rings my kids say "mom another Christmas present is here"! Love online shopping!”

Confessional #25759766

“I see from the email receipt I received that an order I placed went through just 27 seconds before midnight, and the end of the store's Black Friday 25% off sale. It's ridiculous how pumped and triumphant I am about just getting in under the wire.”

Confessional #20396236

“I like online shopping. I like receiving deliveries, even if they're just vitamins.”

Confessional #19580920

“I'm just chillaxing all day under a blanket, online shopping! Perfect Saturday!”

Confessional #17379695

“I need to get my finances in order and pay off debt. Starting next week I'm gonna track every $ and cut back on expenses. But for now - like when a dieter says they'll start on Mon - I'm gonna indulge and do one last online shopping splurge.”

But if you’re able to pay the bill once it comes due, online shopping is exactly the salve many of us need in 2020. We can’t stroll through stores. We can’t grab lunch with our besties. And this Christmas, we can’t even see Grandma. This year sucks in lots of ways. But know what doesn’t suck? Your doorbell ringing and a delivery appearing on your porch.

For me, online shopping was already a big part of my life prior to the COVID outbreak. But now it’s a lifeline. All of my gifts for my kids, my husband, my parents, and my girlfriends all over the country have been purchased via the click of a button this year. But now, even my groceries come that way too. I haven’t had to change out of sweats or put a bra on to go shopping in months. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Sorry, malls. I’m an online girl for life now.

The post From The Confessional: We Are Coping By Clicking ‘Add To Cart’ appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Celebrating The Holidays Early Is Getting Me Through 2020

Usually at this time of the year, I’m counting down the days until I can fire up The Hallmark Channel and listen to cheesy, holiday-themed romantic nothings being whispered in my ear. I wait (not-so) patiently, give Thanksgiving its due, and then go balls to the wall with my Christmas preparation.

But not this year.


This year, I didn’t even wait until Thanksgiving to decorate my home with garland and cinnamon pinecones. In fact, I figured the day after Halloween was a good day to do the deed and deck my halls, my car, and tell Alexa to blast Christmas music until I tell her to stop. 

This year has been nothing but trouble, and 2020 was supposed to be amazing. We all had high hopes on January first that this was going to be it — the year we said we’d live our best life — and we meant it.

Now we are just trying to live. In the same four walls. Day in and day out, with the same people, as we watch the world around us crumble and struggle to find its legs again.

Despite the 2020 shitshow, I love Christmas. I always have, and I always will. 

There was a minute when I felt stressed and overwhelmed thinking about it. I know I won’t be able to partake in the same holiday traditions I’ve done for years — a cookie swap with my family, a Christmas dinner with my friends at our favorite restaurant, holiday parties. 

But I realized I could take away something that has always brought me tremendous joy because the world is a dumpster fire and fill that with doom and gloom too, or I could hold on to my favorite time of the year with the force of ten thousand mothers and hope 2020 ends on a good note. 

I wanted to look forward to Christmas the same way I did when I was a kid because frankly, what else is there to look forward to right now?

We need to hang onto the moments, things, and people who are bringing us joy right now, because those are the only damn things that are going to get us through.

Plus, we have an excuse to stay in our pajamas, watch all the Christmas movies, and bake the day or evening away with our kiddos because it’s the freakin’ holidays, bitches.

If being extra and decorating every room in your house makes you happy, why not do it? We are bound to our homes more than ever, so we might as well make them festive AF.

If you haven’t sent out Christmas cards for years because you are too busy, but love and miss the tradition, why not do it this year?

Personally, I feel no shame that I’ve been wearing my holiday pajamas since Halloween candy was still in the store aisles.

And while I’m wearing said pajamas, I am going to make all the cookies I have pinned in Pinterest. I think it’s about 45 different kinds, but who’s counting? I have a freezer and I’m not afraid to use it.

I need something in my life right now that’s happy, cheery, and makes me feel alive. Christmas has always done that for me, but I always tried to do the “decent” thing and hold back on decorating and baking until mid-November.

Not this year.

Everything went up early — the wreath, the lights, the candles in the window, and the electric bill — because dammit, this shit makes me happy.

I get instantly relaxed when I smell cookies baking in the oven. It reminds me of the simpler days of my childhood.

I love getting up before everyone else and turning the Christmas lights on the tree so it’s the first thing my kids see when they walk downstairs.

There’s nothing that makes me feel more together than having wrapped gifts under the tree and stockings hanging waiting to be filled.

Even if I’m not sitting down to watch every Christmas movie, just hearing them in the background while I make dinner, clean, or I’m talking with my kids feels comforting.

I didn’t want to wait to enjoy these things any more. I wanted them now. 

I know the holidays can be hard on people, and they certainly don’t get everyone out of a funk or make them want to guzzle eggnog and rejoice. But they do for me, and I’m really counting on them doing their job and more this year. I’ll do anything that I think might help end 2020 on a positive note, and if that includes settling into the holiday spirit ridiculously early, so be it. The good Lord knows we all deserve some long-overdue cheer.

The post Celebrating The Holidays Early Is Getting Me Through 2020 appeared first on Scary Mommy.

A Few Tips For Surviving The First Holiday Season After Loss

In the days approaching my first New Year’s Eve after my husband died, good friends reached out and invited me and my kids to celebrate the night with them. We received invitations to large parties and small get-togethers. We were invited to spend the night or just spend a few hours. I weighed all the options and delayed getting back to anyone. The truth was, I didn’t want to do any of it. I wanted to stay home. I didn’t want to usher in a new year at all, but if I had to I wanted to do it only with my two children. I didn’t want to pretend to be okay and I didn’t want to bring anyone down by not pretending. I wanted to curl up under a blanket with my kids and let the night be whatever it would be. Ultimately, I didn’t have to get back to anyone. Fate made the decision I couldn’t make. My daughter came down with the flu and we stayed home from all of it. We watched movies and baked brownies and grieved and celebrated and survived.

Ever since I started publicly writing about my grief, my young widowhood, I’ve been receiving messages and emails from other grievers and other young widowers. Often, the people behind the message are just seeking a space to share their story, and I’m happy to listen. After all, that is why I write too—simply for a space to share my story, to feel seen and heard in a world where it’s easy to feel invisible.

But frequently, especially around the holidays, I receive messages from grievers and young widows and widowers seeking advice for the holidays. The question is always some iteration of how. How do I survive the first holiday season after a loss that has devastated me? How do I make this easier for my kids? How is the world still spinning and time still moving forward when it feels like it should have all fallen apart a thousand times before?

The answer that comes to mind is always the same: I don’t know.

I don’t know because that first holiday season is hard–cruelly hard–and my heart breaks for anyone who has to experience it. I don’t know because I know only what I have lived and I don’t even know if I lived it right. But then, saying I don’t know isn’t exactly helpful. And the whole point of writing my grief is to help, to create a little light in the darkness loss has left me with.

And maybe I can’t offer professional tips, but I can offer advice that has worked for me, without promising it will work for anyone else.

Remove the word “should” from your vocabulary and listen to your heart.

There are no “shoulds” in grief, especially in that first year after loss. There may be pressure from family and friends to act a certain way or do a certain thing, or even pressure coming from yourself to make the holiday what it’s always been, but don’t let “should” dictate your holiday season. The moment I stopped telling myself I should go out for New Year’s Eve (thanks, of course, to the intervention of fate—my daughter was fine, by the way!) I felt more at peace than I had in weeks. The next year, when New Year’s Eve came around, I didn’t even pretend to “should” myself. I packed our bags and escaped the “shoulds” and ushered in the new year with my kids in a way we never had before.

Give your grief space and also make room for more.

Grief demands to be felt. I’ve tried to outrun and outmaneuver and push aside my grief more times than I can count. Each time, I thought I’d beaten grief, thought I’d cured myself of it. Each time, grief came to pull me under with a fierceness I should have expected. Now, instead of fighting grief, I make space for it. I know I need time alone in grief, and I plan to make sure I have it.

But also, I’ve learned to make room for the joy. If you know loss, you also know that tomorrow isn’t always promised and if you have a reason to laugh or smile or be excited, then take it. I know that first laugh feels like a betrayal—it’s not. I know that first flash of excitement for something that is purely yours feels like a desertion—it’s not that either. It’s simply part of surviving, of living after loss.

Say their name. Tell stories about them. Bring them with you into all the moments.

The first New Year’s Eve without my husband, my kids and I talked about their father, my husband. We talked about the last holiday we spent with him, when he was too sick to be himself and all the holidays before. We made him cards and cooked his favorite foods, and kept him with us in whatever way we could. It didn’t fix the grief, but it helped to have him here in some way, in any way.

Surviving the holidays after loss is hard and it hurts, and there are no mix of words or tips that will make that statement untrue. That sounds harsh, but also, hopefully freeing. Because the real truth is that you survive the holidays after loss because you do. Because your lungs take in breath by muscle memory, and your heart beats by instinct, and you survive because you’ve survived so much to get here. The real truth is you’ll survive again and again, and then one day you’ll look up and realize you’re thriving, right alongside all that surviving.

The post A Few Tips For Surviving The First Holiday Season After Loss appeared first on Scary Mommy.

USPS ‘Operation Santa’ Is Doing Digital Letters To The Big Guy This Year

In its 108th year, “Operation Santa” is still happening and will adapt to the pandemic

This year more than ever it’s imperative to make the holiday brighter for those in need, especially families with children who are struggling to provide presents amid the pandemic and devastating economic fallout. Thanks to the United States Postal Service’s “Operation Santa” letters to Santa program, anyone can help make a child’s Christmas a little brighter, and this year it’s easier than ever because it’s all digital.

“Operation Santa” allows children and families to write letters to Santa (directly to the North Pole), which are then processed and shared online beginning on December 4th at Once the letters are live, anyone in the US can go online and “adopt” a letter, and help make a child or family’s holiday wishes come true. Companies and groups can also adopt letters as teams.

The program was started to help families and kids in need, but anyone can write a letter to Santa as part of the program.

“The program has always been about providing holiday gifts for families who may not have the means to provide for anything more than basic everyday needs,” USPS spokeswoman Kim Frum told CNN. During the last 108 years, the USPS has received hundreds of thousands of letters as part of the program. In 2019, more than 11,000 packages were sent to people who wrote to Santa and had their letters “adopted.”

The decision to go fully digital comes as COVID-19 cases continue to spike nationwide, causing a recession and delays in mail delivery everywhere.

“This year, there are likely more families impacted financially and emotionally,” Frum said. “It will be hard to celebrate the holidays without loved ones, whether because of distance or actual loss. But being able to provide even the tiniest bit of normalcy or spark of happiness to those in need would mean the world to so many people right now.”

USPS first launched an online pilot program of “Operation Santa” in 2017 in New York City, according to Frum. By going digital, the program was able to expand to seven cities online in 2018, and 17 last year. That made it easier to go fully digital this year.

Starting Dec. 4th, letters are available for adoption online through the USPS Operation Santa website. You can pick any letter from any city in the entire country, and the entire process of gift-giving is also tax-deductible.

“Operation Santa Claus” first began in 1912 when United States Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock authorized local postmasters to start responding to needy children. Ever since, the USPS and those generous enough to give have been helping create Christmas magic for children everywhere.

Families in need who would like to write a letter to participate in “Operation Santa” can send letters to the big man himself at his “official” address in the North Pole:

Santa Claus
123 Elf Road
North Pole, 88888

When it comes to letters, the choice is yours. “Find one that speaks to you and fulfill wishes as you see fit,” the site reads. “Letters come from hopeful children and families. Answer one (or many) to make a difference. No matter how big the wish, do what’s doable for you.”

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Stouffer’s Is Selling Lasagna Merch And We Need It All

Stouffer’s isn’t just a line of frozen foods anymore — it’s a whole look

Lasagna (and fashion) lovers, you are in for a treat. Stouffer’s just launched its first-ever merchandise line featuring food-themed apparel and it includes an insulated fanny pack for you to store your lasagna. I mean, talk about wardrobe basics.

The days of taking long hikes without the ability to nosh on some hot pasta are officially over.  Now, you just need to heat your lasagna up, shove it the insulated pack, and voila — a hearty snack is but a zipper away. Plus, it comes with an adjustable waist strap and buckle closure so you’ll look as cool as you feel.

But wait, there’s more.

If Stouffer’s lasagna isn’t your jam, there is still plenty of options for you or a loved one this holiday season. Cheese lovers will appreciate this “Don’t Talk To Me Until I’ve Had My Mac & Cheese” mug and this adorable “Mac & Cheese Is Self-Care” t-shirt.

But I would offer you’re not fully committed as a Mac & Cheese Top Fan unless you are literally covered in it from head to toe in this sweatsuit. Sure, it’s $95 but high fashion isn’t cheap.

There’s also a “Let’s Canoodle” Sherpa Lined Micro Mink blanket for $50. It’s a little on the high side but with winter coming you’ll need a blanket and favorite person to canoodle with (pets qualify).

Speaking of staying warm, don’t miss this lasagna-inspired “Layer Up” sweatshirt or this “Live. Laugh. Love. Lasagna” t-shirt.

“Additional pieces will be added to the shop throughout the holiday shopping season,” a spokesperson for the brand confirmed, which is perfect because it makes shopping for all our friends and family fairly easy this year.

As odd as it is to see our favorite frozen food in clothing form, Stouffer’s aren’t the first major brand to debut its own apparel. In recent months, Franzia boxed wine launched an online shop with clothing, necklaces, and Franzia-dispensing backpacks. Red Lobster also dropped a merchandise line that included its own insulated fanny pack that comes inside a sweater. Of course, that one should be worn with only its cheese biscuits inside. The good news for us all is we can wear the lasagna fanny pack whilst donning a Red Lobster sweater with a wine backpack in tow. It’s the win-win-win that 2020 needed.

The collection also includes several puzzles, socks, hats, and hair scrunchies, which are all available online beginning today or are shown as “coming soon” at the site. What a time to be alive.

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Unpopular Opinion: I Actually Love The Dark, Cold Days Of Fall And Winter

I love the fall. I mean, I love it. What’s not to love about PSL season? The clothes are cuter, and the weather is perfection. I’ve never met a pumpkin I didn’t want to bring home to grace my front porch. Give me all the apple cider. I’ve got fall photos on the books. My family’s carefully coordinated warm-toned outfits have been hanging in my closet ready for weeks now. The candles in my house have names like “cozy fireside.” At the first hint of a chill in the air, I tossed out my summery lemon and fruit scented hand soap. I replaced them with scents like cranberry and apple and, for some reason, pound cake.

Fall is my jam.

If I’m being honest, I’m a huge fan of winter, too. We don’t get a lot of snow here in Nashville, but “a tender Tennessee is the only Christmas for me.” There’s no better feeling than when it’s so cold outside that walking through your very own front door feels like a warm hug. The day after Thanksgiving, I transition my apples and pumpkins into snowmen and reindeer in two seconds flat.

For lots of people, the dark, cold days of fall and winter are just the price we have to pay so we can enjoy all the comfy, familiar, beautiful parts.

Not for me.

I absolutely love the cold, dark days. Some people might call them dreary or depressing. I call them calming and comforting. I like to crack the windows and curl up under a comfy blanket. Add a little rain?


I think I grew to love all the different kinds of fall weather because I have so many positive associations with the season. Fall brings Halloween. My anniversary is in October. Growing up, November was the month of a million family birthdays (including mine!)—and therefore a million reasons to get together with my whole family! My first baby came along in November, too. Rain or shine, dreary and dark, or bright and warm, the fall was always going to be full of family and love and togetherness.

And then, of course, there’s Thanksgiving. It’s one of my favorite days of the year, second only to Christmas, the highlight of my winter.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a sunny day. Who isn’t a fan of sunshine?! But sunny days make me feel like I should be out making the most of it. I don’t want to curl up on my couch on a sunny day with hot tea and good book. Sunshine is for running errands, playing outside with my kids, opening the windows, and getting shit done.

I realize that my ability to take in stride these seasons with decreased sunshine, extra darkness and no warm days is not possible for everyone. For some people, this season can be really hard. Seasonal affective disorder is a very real type of depression. I am not at all suggesting that if the shorter days and lack of sunshine make it harder for you to function at your best that you can just look on the bright side with me. My list of reasons why I love this weather doesn’t negate your completely valid feelings that fall and winter are a tough time. If you are just trying to make it back through this season to the sunshine of spring, I see you.

But these dark, cold days make me feel like I can rest. They remind me to take a break from my constant need to be productive. With three kids, it’s easy to feel like I should spend every single minute of my life getting ahead of everything. There is always laundry. There are always dishes. If I look hard enough, I can always find something I need to do. My anxiety disorder sometimes tells me that if I rest, it will pile up, and I will never get it all done.

For some reason, when I wake up and see that sun is hiding behind a cloud, it makes me feel like I have permission to hide a little bit, too. It gives me permission to slow down.

If I’m ever going to let my kids take a mental health day, it’s going to be on one of these cool, dark mornings. Once in a while, my mom did the same for me, and I always loved it. There’s nothing better than waking up and hearing, “Go back to bed. You’re staying home today.”

Since I became a mom, my life feels like sensory overload. Someone is always touching me, making noise, or waving something brightly-colored in my face. Even my nose has to be on high alert, making sure nobody has any pressing needs. A bright, warm day just shines a bright light on all of that chaos.

A nice cool, dark day gives my anxious mind a chance to lay it all aside, and sometimes that’s exactly what I need.

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8 Kids’ Menorahs Your Littles Will Have Fun Lighting For Hanukkah

—Getting children excited about more than just presents at holiday time is no easy feat, but involving your littles in lighting the Hanukkah candles is a lot easier when they have their very own menorah. Things may look different this year, but holiday traditions are not canceled — and it’s never too early to start teaching those traditions. You just need to get a little creative with it: That’s why we’ve searched out the most fun kids’ menorahs that are all but guaranteed to keep your kids engaged in the celebration.

From fire trucks to emojis to crafty paint-your-own options, there are menorahs available that will thrill kids of all ages and interests. Older kiddos can help light the candles atop a spaceship or dinosaur, while babies and toddlers can pretend play along with toy versions in foam or wood, complete with removable “candles.”

Whether you’re shopping for your own little ones, looking for the perfect gift for your niece’s first Hanukkah, or hunting for a classroom-friendly menorah for teaching purposes (bless you), there’s a pick ahead that’s sure to delight this Festival of Lights. Scroll on to shop the cutest kid-friendly menorahs and get a head start on the holiday season. (A miracle, indeed.)

Best Kids’ Menorahs

Rite Lite Ceramic Emoji Hanukkah Menorah

Want to get your mini excited about the Festival of Lights? One word: emojis. It’s no secret that kiddos go nuts for them—for whatever reason that is. So a kids’ menorah with a different emoji expression for each of the eight crazy nights is all but guaranteed to keep your little interested in more than just the presents! (It is a holiday about miracles, after all.) Made of hand-painted ceramic, this menorah fits traditional Hanukkah candles and measures 8.5 inches high—and of course, all the emoji faces are varied versions of happy! Just pour hot water into the wax to loosen and clean this playful piece. Simply put by one happy customer, “It was a fun gift for my kids and they love it.” Mission accomplished.

$24.99 AT AMAZON

Aviv Judaica Firetruck Menorah

Found: A kids’ menorah that is all but guaranteed to delight the truck enthusiast/wannabe firefighter in your crew! This sweet little resin ceramic pick comes complete with the requisite firehouse Dalmatian, as well as a hydrant and hose—too cute! Kids are all too eager to light this one every night, according to reviewers, including one who wrote, “A fun way to celebrate the holiday with our young boys. It has held up to my 1 & 3 year old boys playing with it and they can’t wait to light it for Hanukkah!” Another raved, “Perfect for the 2 year old who loves trucks. Very well made.” You may need to hide this fun find before Hanukkah actually arrives—and maybe make sure your kiddos don’t decide to play firefighter and put out the candles themselves!

$47.99 AT AMAZON

Dinosaur Menorah

Looking for a menorah for your dino-obsessed offspring? This campy gilded Tyrannosaurus Rex has reached Bestseller status on Etsy, which means there’s likely already a lot of happy Hanukkah revelers out there. Measuring 11″ x 5″ x 2″, the plastic dinosaur is spray-painted gold and affixed to a plastic base, and fits standard, shorter Hanukkah candles around 9mm thick. Whether you use it as a kids’ menorah or to delight your significant other, it’s almost guaranteed to be a holiday hit. According to one reviewer, “It’s solid — pretty heavy, high in quality. The color is nice and my son loved it immediately. Even better, it comes with a few ‘fun facts’ that are adorable. Highly recommended. May even purchase a second for my nephew. Holes are appropriately sized for my standard Hanukkah candles — they won’t wiggle like others do!” In other words, purchase this pick and you’re golden.


Zion Judaica Polyresin Spaceship Menorah

For the budding astronaut in your life: a kids’ menorah that’s, well, out of this world. This rocket ship menorah fits the standard size Hanukkah candles and actually makes a fun display piece for your little space explorer’s, er, space. Light it up during the holiday, keep it on a shelf or desktop the rest of the year. As one reviewer described it, “There’s no better available Menorah for a Hanukkah offering to your local astronaut.” Another noted how this option has potential to go the distance (pun intended), writing, “My kindergartener wanted a “big boy” menorah to replace a more babyish menorah that we had been using since he was born. This rocket ship menorah was perfect! It was cute enough that he wanted to use it as a toy, but sleek enough that I don’t think he will mind using it through middle school.”

$34.99 AT AMAZON

Menorah Crafts and Toys

Mia Sorella Gifts Ceramic Hanukkah Menorah DIY

Nope, you don’t need a professional ceramic kiln — you and your kids can simply paint directly on this menorah, turning this important teaching moment about an important holiday into an arts and crafts projects. (If you want to get it glazed, just drop it off and your local ceramic shop.)


The Dreidel Company Hanukkah Foam Toy Menorah

For grabby littles, a foam kids’ menorah with removable rubber candles is the ideal way to keep them engaged and out of harm’s way. Your kiddo can join in the Hanukkah fun, minus the flames—”Perfect for keeping my 3yr old son away from the real candles,” as one reviewer put it. Great for a ‘baby’s first Hanukkah’ gift, you can keep this pick well into the toddler years and even pass it down thereafter, so said a happy grandparent,”Great product, my granddaughter loved it and carried it with her everywhere! She did leave a few teeth marks on the candles but it withstood her nibbling. She was able to put the candles in and ‘light it’ while we said the prayers. We plan to have this menorah for years to come and to pass it on to her future siblings.” Another reviewer noted, “I am a children’s librarian, and this is the IDEAL prop for storytelling about Hanukkah. You can give each child a candle, even a group of toddlers, and rest easy knowing that they won’t hurt themselves or damage the toy.” Whether it’s a toy, teaching tool, unofficial teether, or all of the above, this soft menorah is ideal for little kids.

$12.95 AT AMAZON

KidKraft Children's Menorah

With the look of a vintage children’s toy, this brightly-colored wooden kids menorah promises to be an instant classic. It comes complete with 9 removable “candles” that are safe for minis to “light”/place on the menorah base each night of the holiday. “Such a fun menorah [for] little ones! Our kids loved pulling out the candles and putting them in themselves. Sturdy and vibrant pieces,” wrote one reviewer, who also noted it was “perfect for little hands.” Another described it as “an adorable way to get your child in to the festive spirit. I found it really durable and easy for my two year old to use. She was really thrilled with it.” Teachers take note: This pick is also a great option for classrooms. One mama recounted,  “I first purchased this for my son’s preschool classroom. When I took my daughter to his class holiday pajama party, she ended up playing with it the entire hour. We ordered one for our house too.”

$12.69 AT AMAZON

The Dreidel Company Children's Wooden Chanukah Menorah

Another wooden menorah with removable “candles,” this kid-friendly find makes a great gift for family. It’s also an ideal option if you don’t like to leave an open flame! Kids can play —and pray— along safely as grown-ups light the real deal. As one grandma wrote, “Bought for my 1 yr old grandchild. Well made…She had much fun putting the candles in the menorah as we [lit] the real one. Great way to teach holiday traditions.” Measuring a petite 6 x 2 x 8 inches and weighing just over a pound, it’s easy for little ones to handle, and they may even want to play with it post-Hanukkah. So said a happy customer, “My grandchildren love this so much that they are often seen playing with it even though the holiday has passed. I purchased it for three 4 year olds.” Now that’s a successful gift.

$24.95 AT AMAZON

Now that you’ve found the perfect menorah, shop more kid gear to delight the littles all year long!

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A 4-Point Plan To Cope With Joint Custody Challenges During The Holidays

The holidays are traditionally supposed to be all about family togetherness — a concept that can really sting when that family has been through a split. And if it’s your first holiday season as a newly separated or divorced person, it’s a complicated time, both emotionally and logistically.

Even a shared custody arrangement that works smoothly during the school year can be thrown into disarray by the holiday season and all of its demands. Maybe it’s the scenes in the twinkling, fireplace-lit TV commercials, maybe it’s your own memories of perfect, or less-than-perfect holidays past, but there’s a lot of pressure on parents at this time of year to come up with something “magical,” or at least memorable.

When I became a family law attorney, I got a front row seat to all of the strife that families go through over custody arrangements, and all of that seems to get magnified during the holiday season. But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be. With communication, advance planning, and a willingness to sometimes set your own emotions aside and let the better angels take the wheel.

Here’s my simple, four-point plan for keeping joy in the holidays, even after a divorce:

1. Hide the battle scars like you hide the gifts. 

There’s plenty of time to argue all year round. But treat the holidays in your personal life as you would treat them in your work life: take the day off. Setting aside differences can be hard, but if there’s ever a time to take the high road, the holiday season is it.

Remember: holidays are not ordinary days; they’re supposed to be special. Even when you’re not getting what you want, take the message of Thanksgiving into your heart, and practice gratitude: be thankful for those things you do have.  Some people are unable to even have children at all, so concentrate on the big picture.

2. Spell out a clear plan, and stick to it. 

Decide who gets the children for which holiday as far in advance as possible, and understand what the expectations are for each parent. Often, sticking points arise because someone wants to make one. But maybe you can take turns, and say to your ex, Christmas can be yours this year, but it’s mine next year. It may be tough, but it doesn’t have to be a Greek tragedy. And don’t forget, Christmas is often more meaningful to kids than it is to parents. What’s important is to relax and do some fun things, even if they’re simple. In other words, you don’t have to spend an entire day trudging through an expensive, exhausting theme park. Sometimes, just relaxing at home while cutting out paper snowflakes and eating the whole box of cookies might make for a great holiday memory.

3. Have a fallback plan if something falls through. 

Winter weather grounds airline flights, people get colds and flu. Job one is to be the parent who’s flexible and understanding (even through gritted teeth). Line up family or friends who can pinch hit as babysitters, or set aside a bit of emergency money to help cope with unexpected costs, like a flight cancellation fee. If these sorts of cancellations are a regular occurrence — maybe even the thing that led to the divorce in the first place — you don’t have to just put up or shut up all year round. But maybe just during the holidays, postpone your frustration. You can fight over it later. Being the parent who drops everything for the sake of their kids while your spouse has an unplanned diversion might seem like an unfair burden, but your sacrifices will be worthwhile, because kids deserve a holiday.

4. Broaden your view of the calendar. 

Christmas is just one day. It may be tough to not spend it with your child, but if you can do a different December weekend with ice skating, tree trimming, or hot chocolate, those things will count in your child’s bank of holiday memories too. Or start now on advance-planning a weeklong summer camping trip. Don’t put too much emphasis on a single day; think of the holidays as an entire season, and more importantly, think of your relationship with your child as a lifelong affair.

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I’m Dreaming Of A Clutter-Free Christmas

Each holiday season, along with trimming our tree and baking cookies, our family practices another tradition: clearing out all the clutter. In preparation of the annual barrage of toys that will inevitably descend on our house from our generous and well meaning family (despite our pleas for gifting experiences rather than things), we need to make room.

This purge historically took place under the cover of night while the children were nestled all snug in their beds. My husband and I would manically box up the unused and unloved toys and ready them for donation. Our children would wake none the wiser, not missing any of the discarded play things. However, last year was the inaugural year of my kids participating in the pre-Christmas clutter clearing, and we weren’t sure how they would take it.

To my surprise, my own Christmas miracle occurred when they embraced the idea of parting with their current toys knowing they would be replaced by new ones from Santa (and my bogus back pocket threat, “if Santa sees you have too many toys he may not leave you any new ones,” went unused).

Eugene Zhyvchik/Unsplash

Our clutter clearing ritual is a three step process that happens over the weekend following Thanksgiving.

First, we set the example. My husband and I phase out our own excess, explaining our actions to our kids as we clear things out left and right.

Second, the setup. We prep our kids with the instructions that they’ll be sorting through their toys and “giving them away to a new home where someone will love them again and play with them every day, just like you used to.” We make sure that we emphasize how fortunate they are to have so many toys, and remind them that Santa and our relatives will be bringing them new toys that we have to make room for. We also point out that they are one year older now and there are many toys they’ve outgrown.

Markus Spiske/Stocksnap

Lastly, the purge. We begin by having them choose between two similar items. Once the favorite is picked, we put it up against another and so on until we are left with a few loved items from each toy category and fewer items overall. For smaller items, like their Hot Wheels, we line them up and have them each pick out a predetermined number of favorites. As they sort, we recycle or throw out toys that have missing pieces, or are broken, or are simply plastic junk. The entire process takes my kids forever and a day as they meticulously sort through the drawers and cubbies of trucks, trains, tractors and planes, but in the end they are left with fewer, truly treasured toys.

The timing of this clutter clearing is crucial. Since they’re looking forward to what they’ll find under our tree, their anticipation ousts any push back or separation anxiety that we might encounter any other time of the year. Once the boxes are filled, we donate them with a “ceremony,” thanking the toys for letting us play with them and wishing them well on their journeys to a new, loving child. Having my kids participate in the clearing has also helped to erase the guilt I felt when previously discarding their toys without their knowledge. An added benefit is that we have a fresh start to the new year with the clutter clearing behind us.

My overall hope is that this process is teaching our kids the counterculture that more “things” don’t equal more happiness and that joy can often be found in giving to others. After all, ’tis the season.

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