May 21, 2024
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How to Enjoy the Glow Without the Low on Chanukah

Dear Dr. Chani,

I am embarrassed to say it, but Chanukah is really hard for me. I am a mother of five and I always look forward to Chanukah. As Simchas Torah ends, I already begin anticipating it. Then, when we change the clocks and the temperature starts dropping, I imagine the warmth of Chanukah. I envision the glowing faces of my children lighting menorah, the sizzle and taste of fresh latkes and the cheer as the family celebrates together. Perhaps above all, I envision Shabbos Chanukah, with the family together and enjoying the menorah and the warmth at home even if it is cold outside.

The problem is…it never happens that way. Chanukah means that the younger kids are cranky because they had too much candy, or not enough presents, or stayed up too late. For my older kids it means doing their own thing and being part of our family just when they are in the mood. Truth to be told, even my husband and I are not the closest on Chanukah. There is a lot to do and we are spread thin, and can sometimes even snap at each other.

What is most on my mind is Shabbos Chanukah. It is usually terrible for some reason. This year was no exception. Instead of being time for our family to bond, we lit menorah later than I had wanted to, kids bickered at the table and my husband and I got so involved with the kids that we started losing patience with each other. To top it all off, I forgot to warm up the latkes, so they were cold—and everyone complained about that, too. That is just this year. But there is almost always something. Shabbos Chanukah is never the way I expect it to be. I sometimes wish there was no Shabbos in Chanukah!

This happens almost every year. I have such lofty goals and they never seem to happen. Chanukah is always so hard. Is it just me?

Sincerely,

Olivia Oyl

Dear Olivia,

I can only imagine your disappointment. You look forward to Chanukah for such a long time and cannot wait for it to come. Yet when it finally arrives, it is nothing like you expected. There are family frustrations, difficult demands and even tensions between you and your husband.

What you are describing is incredibly common, especially the Shabbos Chanukah part. When I meet with couples that are working to strengthen their relationship, the week after Chanukah almost always ushers in conversations around Shabbos Chanukah. A common complaint one spouse will complain about is, “Can you imagine that this and this happened, on Shabbos Chanukah?!” Shabbos Chanukah can be disappointing for many people.

Part of the reason for this comes directly from your question itself. You are discussing the high expectations and excitement you have for Chanukah, in general, and Shabbos Chanukah, in particular. Most people have lofty expectations for an uplifting Shabbos Chanukah. Those high expectations do not usually take the realities of life into account. The real dynamic of families is that siblings step on each other’s toes and bicker, adolescents struggle with asserting their independence and husbands and wives sometimes disagree. This can happen all the time—and does. It is part of the raw reality of human interaction and family dynamics. It is nice to think of a family as a safe haven for everyone. It can be, but that does not mean it is not without its tensions and ups and downs.

It can be hard to embrace the fact that a “normal” family has disagreements, frustrations and…cold latkes. It can be particularly hard to allow your family to be “normal” when you have the exciting expectations that you have. Real life does not usually live up to theoretical expectations. As a rule, when we look forward to something being ideal and perfect, we usually become disappointed. Celebrations, holidays and events are focused on people. And we all have things that bother us, highs and lows in mood and frustrations. Those do not stop because there is a holiday.

Even more than that, when you expect Chanukah to be perfect, it can put added pressure on you and your family. It is hard to know, but perhaps that is part of the reason that you lit candles a bit later and forgot to warm up the food. When we are under pressure we usually forget things. The stress and tension make it harder for us to do what we should be doing well and to remember all the things we should be doing. Pressure usually works against your efforts to succeed.

Another way to approach Shabbos Chanukah is to look forward to the time that your family is together as an opportunity to…be together as a family. There can be nice experiences, such as lighting the menorah and sitting around the table. There can also be unpleasant experiences, such as people not getting along, things not happening on time and food that does not turn out the way you wanted it to. Those are all parts of a celebration—the celebration of real life.

It can be very meaningful for you to look forward to Chanukah and to keep those warm beautiful images in your mind. At the same time, do not allow them to loom so large that they make the realities of a healthy family’s Chanukah seem below par and less than ideal. Enjoy the realities of every day as your family grows and behaves like a “normal” family.

As Chanukah draws to a close, I hope that you are able to enjoy the memories of a family Chanukah that lights up your year long after the last candle has gone out.

Wishing you much success,

Chani


Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships and provides free relationship resources at chanimaybruch.com. Learn a step-by-step method to improve your ability to emotionally connect with her new online course: The RELATE Technique™—Seven Steps to Emotionally Connect Through Conversation. Reach out to her at [email protected].

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