It is midway through December. Christmas planning, Christmas shopping, Christmas celebrating and Christmas stressing feels well underway.
The season can be so much about expectations, or what we hoped for…that somehow this year will be different. I won’t spend as much. The family will get along. The kids won’t be bored. Everyone will be grateful, kind and make time for one another. It will be magical.
Instead, Uncle Larry gets drunk on Christmas Eve causing a scene in front of the new neighbors you invited because they didn’t have family close-by. Then your mother-in-law leans in and suddenly you feel guilty about wanting the quiet morning on Christmas day, and the next thing you know, you agree to pack up the kids for a sleep-over to spend the entire day together. Secretly, you loathe her for making you feel pressured, and, to top it off, your husband doesn’t say a word in your defense. Finally, as you are heading out fighting traffic on Christmas Eve, waiting in a ridiculously long line-up at the mall, your credit card declines.
How do you solve this kind of holiday madness?
Take a good look at the expectations you have for this season.
Why is it so hard to understand the challenges of family life when we expect people to spend hours, sometimes days together without incident…sometimes this season is the only time everyone is in one place for this length of time all year. We put people together in one room, being aware of dynamics that may be unresolved, tense or weird, but expect the family to put aside their “stuff” for the sake of the season and get along.
Who made these unattainable rules of engagement? How lovely for you if your family does this successfully, but some family members live in different cities for good reason and to expect unresolved conflict, hurt or issues not to show up at family gatherings is unrealistic.
Know the capacity for mutually satisfying engagement within your particular family…be a realist. If Uncle Ken and Aunt Margaret can’t stand one another, having them over together for Christmas dinner without an incident may be a tall order. If you take the risk, be prepared for the possibility of conflict. Being prepared for breakdown wards off the disappointment you may feel when the evening ends in disaster.
And know that human families consist of people who are typically one small decision or distraction away from saying something or doing something that triggers a feeling that is uncomfortable, awkward or offensive in another.
Stop reading for the role of Martha Stewart, or the neighbor with the perfectly decorated home who dropped off fresh baked cookies- those roles have been taken. You are not expected to measure up to the scrutiny of the Christmas Event Police. Your children will not disown you if you are unable to track down every single item on their Christmas list. And if your Christmas lights are crooked and your baking is store bought, Christmas will not be ruined.
Do you know when enough is enough? Do you know the signals your body and brain make when you need to recharge? Ignoring stress in your body is a recipe for the meltdown. Take time to rest. Make space to slow down, eat, sleep and find some quiet in the midst of the busyness. Say no to that extra event or invitation. Say no to one more night out.
Resist the temptation to out-do what you did last year.
When you are overwhelmed, tired or stressed, the solution is almost always…less. Get rid of something. Lots of somethings.
If family time = tension feels like an actual equation for you and your family, know that you are not alone. Be gentle with yourself and each other. Learn to laugh, watch a comedy, and see the big picture…2018 provides another run at the holiday season and every day from now until then is an opportunity for a re-do.
Take good care…and Merry Christmas in whatever way it looks in your home,
Tracey Dahl, MA, RCC