Presents to buy, parties to plan (and attend), decorations and food to organise, standing in queues with excited children who want to meet the big man in the red suit (then shriek with fear when they get up close) and, if you are expecting holiday visitors, you will also have to clean and cook and prepare the spare room.
It is all too easy to feel overwhelmed by pressure to make this time special for everybody around you, often at the expense of your own well-being. After all, just because it’s ‘that time of year’, you don’t have any more hours in each day. The ‘silly season’ can be enough to try the patience of the most well-intentioned super-mummy and instead of feeling the joy, Christmas can see you becoming a ‘Mummy Grinch’ and spoiling everybody’s fun.
You can almost be certain that just when you feel pushed to the absolute limit, your kids will start acting out too – they are like little barometers of our own stress. As they catapult us directly into our ‘out of control’ zone, we react in ways that are irrational and way out of proportion to the event. Not only are we the parent we don’t want to be, we have turned into the parent we swore we would never become.
If you feel your stress levels rising at the mere thought of hitting the shops or choosing gifts, let alone spending Christmas day with relatives that you try and avoid all year, slow down. Take a deep breath and centre yourself then consider, what is really important here? How do I really want my little ones to remember Christmas? How can I ‘downsize’ while still making Christmas meaningful?
For some mothers, like Melissa, a mum of three, Christmas may mean lots of tradition: Melissa says, “I love doing the house, the tree and the cards, making a gingerbread house, and driving round with the kids looking at the houses.” However, for Melissa, this doesn’t add to seasonal stress because to her these experiences don’t count as extra demands. She says, “it is not about doing all these things (because they are obligatory) but how we are being. There is no point making a gingerbread house if I am yelling at the kids but it’s fun to make it together with them helping cut decorations out of the dough and doing the tree together. If I can’t manage everything, I don’t stress – although the cards are important to me, for instance, last year I was so tired I didn’t do them and it didn’t matter.”
If you are panicking about Christmas day itself because it will involve spending a whole day with family members who may be critical of your parenting style (“in our day….”) or intolerant of your little ones’ behaviour (from over-tired toddlers to a grizzly baby who is likely to become more fractious if you are tense about breastfeeding in front of Uncle Tom so this affects your ‘let down’ and your baby pulls off and exposes more of your nipple!), talk to your partner beforehand about how you can be prepared and what specific support you will need. If you are feeling vulnerable but have a supportive family member such as a sister, ask her to be your buddy for the day and help you with your children or deflect criticism that comes your way.
There are as many ways to celebrate Christmas as there are individual families so it is impossible to please everybody or to live up to high ideals of the perfect Christmas. Remember, you are more likely to create happy memories for your children if you are relaxed, so please give yourself the gift of kindness – be as realistic about your expectations of yourself as you are with your children, stop to smell the pine needles and do the things YOU enjoy. This way, you will feel the joy and be able to share it with your little ones.