Now that Christmas is over for another year. I have time to reflect. We know that Christmas can be a depressing time for people. They may be alone or missing people they have lost in the year.
I have come to recognise that Christmas can be a stressful time and I know I’m not alone. The magic has really gone for me, my husband calls me the Grinch. The kids are teenagers now. It’s less about the mystery and surprise about what Santa will bring, more about putting in your orders, bargaining and planning.
The Pressure of Tradition
Most people love the tradition. Recreating the same routines or Grandma’s trifle recipe. To the point that if something doesn’t follow formula it’s a great tragedy. It forces us to live in the past. To relive past experiences over and over. Yes, reliving memories can bring joy and nostalgia, however, the pressure of fulfilling these expectations can be stressful. It becomes less about spontaneity and more about formula.
Solution: Live in the Now. Why not focus on doing things a little different each year. Watch yourself for language like ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’. Think about ways you can mix things up or different people you can spend time with.
Expectations take over Anticipation
Christmas time can be a time of expectations, demands even. People place demands on your time, the expectations of your presence, for you to act a certain way, kids have an expectation of what they will receive. I’m torn. I want to be a good parent show a sense of duty to not be consumerist but want to fulfil their dreams and joy. I want to be everything to everyone but just can’t keep up with everyone that wants a piece of me.
I even place expectations on myself. About what Christmas should be. Back in 2007, we moved from Alice Springs to Brisbane to be closer to my husband’s children. We wanted to try and rekindle the relationship and undo the emotional trauma caused by their evil mother. It was a big sacrifice but for a big reason. We had not yet established contact, so they weren’t with us that Christmas. We had left behind all our family to move there. I felt sad that I would not have lots of family around me. I knew that the place for ‘orphans’ to go on Christmas day was Southbank in Brisbane. So my husband I packed a gourmet BBQ and picnic lunch, bundled up our two toddlers and headed to the delightful location for fun and swimming. I think I was ambitious. I had visions of us sitting around eating a yummy meal together. However, anyone with toddlers knows that taking little kids to a public place full of fun and stimulation is an exhausting task. We each took turns to supervise the kids. I went first, while my husband cooked on the BBQ. We then took turns to sit down and eat the meal, while the other parent kept a watchful eye on the children. It was the realisation for me that I too needed to let go of some of the expectations.
Solution: Focus on what brings YOU joy. Remind others around you what blessings they have in their lives. Focus on what your own values are and stay true to those. Think about what’s ‘really’ important.
There will always be financial pressure. The more you earn, the more you spend. You will have set goals for yourself about what you will fulfil with your funds. It may be small gifts, or a huge cruising holiday, either way, you’ll have a budget you want to achieve. Regardless of our income, we’ll all experience this same stress in some form or another unless we’re organised and have planned well. This is why things like Criscoe and lay-by are so popular. I admire those Mums who buy presents throughout the year and stock-pile them.
Our next Christmas in Brisbane, we were still finding our feet financially. We were both working in low-income jobs, heavy in debt and watching every penny. There was no way we were going to be travelling to family. Finding extra money to buy our children meaningful presents was tricky. Ebay was my best friend through these times. My oldest boy must have been about 4 or 5 and had expressed an absolute desire for a tricycle and the other child a bicycle. I was excited to find near new ones on eBay. I bought the presents well in advance and hid them well (or so I thought) in the garage. Imagine my horror, to wake up to the sound of my children playing outside, full of excitement, on the bikes. I was mortified! There was no way I could afford to find something new for Christmas AND maintain the mystery of Santa. I had to think quick. I was working for a charity at the time, assisting disadvantaged children. I explained to the kids that they must not touch those bikes as they were for the poor kids at Mummy’s work, but, if they really, really like those bikes, Mummy could find a way to talk to Santa to let him know that they wanted bikes EXACTLY like those ones.
Solution: If you have young children, and want to instil the mystery of Christmas. Make the small, stocking filler presents the ones that come from Santa. Make the big ones, come from Mum and Dad. My children learnt that big gifts came from real people, who made a real sacrifice and put real thought into giving them. Not magical people who reward good behaviour and belief. If my kids really wanted something, I wouldn’t say ‘maybe if you’re good, Santa will bring it for you. Rather, I would say, maybe someone will give you that for Christmas or birthday. Now, we try to focus more on experiences and quality time. I love it when I am gifted an experience rather than things. The whole pressure of consumerism and gluttony bothers me.
One thing about events is that everything leads up to one point in time. It’s a race to the finish line, the goal; to do things in a timely manner. So the pressure can relate to getting your food supplies in time before the mad rush, getting the food prepared in time, the food in the oven at the right time for the right amount of time. Buying airline tickets, or booking holidays with enough time. Ordering things online, will they be delivered on time? Sending gifts, will they arrive on time?. Christmas is all about time, time, TIME!
Solution: Is there anything that can hold off until later. Are there moments where you can just stop. Plan for the rest time or just stop time. I struggle to have afternoon naps, even to stop working (hell I’m even working now writing this blog). I have cut back on the work I am doing (I love what I do so it’s not really work for me), however, there are moments where I am going to be stressful, high energy things. Like MC’ing events. I love it, but in those few hours, it is adrenaline pumping, cortisol-producing times. I know I will be absolutely wired afterwards. So I spend an hour or two resting before I start preparing myself. I lay down, watch Netflix and if I’m really lucky, I’ll drop off to sleep. Something I find very hard to do. By nature, I am a highly wired, stress addicted person.