Living True Holiday Values: An Interview With Vicki Hoefle

November 21, 2009 at 4:41 am 3 comments

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and I am so looking forward to our little family’s new tradition of the past few years.  Instead of overindulging, my husband and I clean out — clean out our house, our cupboards, our piles, load up the donation bins, make a simple vegan meal on the holiday and turn the tables on the traditional glut-fest that kicks off the holiday season.

We get oddly giddy at the thought of our Thanksgiving week clean-out, saying for months ahead of time, “We’ll get to clean out that closet over Thanksgiving.”  It is so liberating, and we have so far ended each Thanksgiving week that  we’ve done this feeling more relaxed and clear-headed.

Now, I’m honestly not sure if we will be very productive in our cleaning out this year at all, with an infant and toddler in the house, so we are probably going to have to lower our expectations and be happy if we get to one room rather than the whole house. But, still, we will be in the simplicity spirit, and we are loving this new tradition for our family.

Another mom I am getting to know — the parenting guru (and mother of five) I mentioned recently, Vicki Hoefle of Parenting on Track — recently wrote on her online parent coaching forum that she, too, decided early on in her time of mothering five kids to avoid the traditional holiday and birthday glut as well.  So, I sent her my post on “No-Gift Birthday Parties” (from 2007 and to date still my most popular post ever!) and she sent me one of the most validating emails of the year, explaining how successful this has been for her family.

So, I asked Vicki if I could interview her about this birthday/holiday stuff for Having Enough, and I’m happy to say that she agreed.  I am so inspired by what she had to say, as I am each time I correspond with her and watch another of her classes on DVD.  Why?  Because she is all about defining our values, then living by them.  And this fits perfectly into the journey I’m on with Having Enough, and with each day as I strive to live a true and meaningful life.  From what I have seen so far, Vicki is a shining example of this.

Picture her as a straight-shooter, Mae West-style, with a sly grin, a quick barb, and a loving heart  (check out these videos of her parenting course to see her “live”). Anyway, here’s our interview:

MPK:  So, Vicki, tell me what the winter holidays look like at your house.

VH: Thanksgiving is always the same. It is low key, and it is about coming together and preparing for the season. I try to cook something nontraditional, which I’ve done for about 15 years now. Because it is the beginning of the season, I try to create a peaceful, thoughtful and intentional four days. I gather the family together on Wednesday night and we talk about the next four days together — how we will cook, when we will cook, when dinner will be served, what our theme for the year might be.

We also begin decorating for Christmas. Why so early? Because when I am 92 I will not be a cat lady, I will be the Christmas lady. I love, love, love decorating. I love the lights, the music, the smells of December. In Vermont, it’s especially magical because of the snow and the ice and the glitter of the natural world.

Christmas for our family varies. The last two holidays we have traveled abroad to visit two of our children, one in Chile and one in Argentina. It was an amazing way to spend the holidays — mass in Spanish, empanadas for Christmas dinner. Oh, just amazing when I think back on it. This is something we will continue to do and eventually add the volunteering component into the mix.

Traditionally, though, it goes something like this: Decorations that create a magical feel in the house. Music, music and more music all day and well into the evening. No shopping. We stopped buying presents for the kids when they were about 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 – I can’t really recall, but it was early on.

A tradition in my family of origin is the stockings, and so I do get a little carried away with the stocking stuffers, but we do try to buy things the kids need and throw in a few surprises. For example, mustard for a son who slathers it on everything. I think this is a reminder to him that we “know” him. We are paying attention to his life. You can’t imagine the smiles that these kinds of gifts generate.

We all pool our money and contribute to the Heifer Project as a way to give back and make a donation in the name of all our family members. In fact, one year the kids pooled all their money and purchased an Ox all on their own. I knew then that they understood the meaning behind the holidays — gratitude, giving, etc.

The holidays are a non-stress time for me. I am so happy I took the time when the kids were young, to rethink this whole holiday idea. It has worked remarkably well for our family.

MPK:  That is wonderful! (BTW, my brother and I also donate to Heifer International – a non-profit that provides livestock to families in developing countries – in lieu of giving gifts to each other’s kids. The kids like to help choose which animal to donate for each cousin, and we talk about how each animal can help a family make a living.) Anyway, this is exactly the kind of approach we are trying to take to the holidays as well – I love hearing about it.

Now, Vicki, what about birthdays in your house?

VH: Well, birthdays are about kids and parents. We did away with birthday parties fairly early on with the kids. They were nightmares. So, instead we have the kids pick their favorite meal, they help make it, they pick their favorite dessert, they help make it. Then, over dinner, I tell their birth story, in as much detail as I can. We get out their baby book and we celebrate their life. It is amazing.

When the kids got older, say 13 or thereabout, their interest in birthdays was reignited. We agreed as a family that if they could organize the party and pay for the party, they could do anything they wanted. By then, they were thoughtful and reasonable about it, so it was never a problem. One year I flew two of my daughters to Arizona for a 16th. It was amazing. They bought their own plane tickets, we stayed in our condo and we had the most glorious three days together. One year my husband took our oldest son up to Canada for a lacrosse tournament with a bunch of his friends. He was on cloud nine for months.

MPK: As I’ve told you, my blog still gets discovered each week by at least one person searching for “no-gift birthday parties.” (I hope those people hop from here to Birthdays Without Pressure, too.) This seems to be a big issue for parents today.

VH: It’s huge. I think most parents know the birthday thing, and the Christmas thing, has gotten out of hand. There is too much stuff. People are looking for ways to do it differently, ways they can live with, and their friends and family can live with. A friend of mine started a great site called Inlu that addresses this concern as well.

MPK:  So, Vicki, how did you decide some 20 years ago to shun (modern, consumer-driven) tradition and do things differently as you did?

VH: Hmmm. First, I don’t think I made the decision to shun modern, consumer-driven tradition. I think I decided to challenge it first. It also helps that – if you know me, you know this — I don’t really care what anyone thinks. I ask questions, I probe, I am curious, I challenge things that don’t make sense and I base my decision-making on facts, not fiction.

When you attend a birthday party and all you see is crying, gnashing of teeth, too much of everything, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make an accurate assessment of the situation. The problem is usually that parents don’t have the courage to follow through with their convictions. Never been an issue with me. LOL.

MPK:  Can you tell me more about what your kids thought of all this when they were young, and what do they think now that they are older (ages 16 to 20)?

VH: It was never a problem with the younger kids. Really, I don’t remember any upset over birthdays or holidays and the fact that we celebrated them differently.

The truth is, now that I think about it, kids want meaning in their life. If they get addicted to “meaningful events” instead of societal fads, they develop a taste for it. Our kids developed a taste for more refined experiences.  As they got older, they instinctively balanced meaning and fun. Perfect.

MPK: I have a zillion more questions, but since this is a blog interview and it’s getting long, I’ll wrap it up with just one more: What advice would you give parents who are feeling pressure around the holidays and birthday parties?

VH: Honestly, I’d say, “Get over it!” I know it sounds harsh, but parents have backbone. They aren’t wimps. They can handle a little scuffing up now and then if it brings some clarity and choices to their lives.

For their own happiness, I would tell parents this: if you are following the herd, if you are making decisions out of fear, then you are missing the best part of life. The CHOICE part of life.

Eva Dreikurs Ferguson said once in a workshop – “Only those people who can identify their strengths and their mischief making (neurosis) are at choice. Everyone else is like cattle.”  I could not agree more. If you are going to choose to attend birthday parties, do it consciously, not unconsciously. There is a big difference.

So, for me, there is no right or wrong, better or worse, there is this idea of making informed decisions that move you “towards” what you want in life. I moved “towards” meaningful experiences, not junk. I made the decision once, not a million times, and then I created a plan for “living” that decision.

Also, I tell parents to be gentle with themselves as they make these important decisions and changes. We’re trying to turn a steamliner here, it’s not a speedboat. We’re not going to turn it in 10 minutes, but we can turn it, by living at choice and sticking to it.

Just think:  Peaceful, confident, fun, engaged, relaxed. That is what you get when you make informed decisions.

MPK:  Ah, have I mentioned that you inspire me, Vicki?  A Having Enough hero, for sure.  I can’t think of a better way to kick off the holiday season than this interview.  Thank you, Vicki!


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Vicki  |  November 28, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Thank you for asking me to share my experience. It was a delight working with you and I do hope we get to do it again. Kisses to all of you in sunny Cali.

  • 2. Leslie  |  December 2, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    I am so happy to read this article. I have always felt this way.
    A tradition I started years ago for my families birthday; was a shrine, all of the activities the birthday child is a part of, birth photos, maybe a hockey stick, or a baseball mit or a piece of artwork , etc. it’s all about them. I put it together while they are asleep and it stays up all day. They look foward to seeing it and sharing it with anyone who comes along. homemade cards with appriecation of the birthday child are also on the table. My kids love it, even my teenager.

  • 3. Jena Strong  |  December 7, 2009 at 11:23 am

    This is timely, as Greg & I start talking about what to do for the girls for Hanukkah. They will get plenty of presents from grandparents. We plan to give them gift certificates for things we can do together during the winter break (ear piercing, a movie), as well as some small gifts (gelt, new dreidels to play)… it’s still evolving.

    I love Vicki’s comment about how parents can handle a little scuffing up in the name of greater clarity and choices. Hallejujah. So glad you two found each other!!!


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To spark conversation about redefining success (as individuals, families and institutions) and to counter "never enough" messages currently circulating in our culture.

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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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