If we were to believe every Christmas carol, festive number 1 or TV ad that appears, seemingly earlier and earlier each December, we?d be fooled into thinking that everyone really is simply having a wonderful Christmas time. Everyone, apart from you, you may think...
When we start to look a bit further into what?s behind the Advent calendar windows, the Christmas cheer that everyone is expected to exude may not be as achievable as the TV ads would have us believe. There seems to be an expectation that the problems faced throughout the other 364 days of the year will disappear for this one day while we all play happy families together. A Christmas miracle indeed!
Problems inherent throughout the year can have a unique way of showing up at Christmas, which can sometimes make them feel even more intense and highlight feelings you didn?t know you were harbouring. The battle with an ex regarding who the children will be with can highlight disappointment about the relationship having not worked out in the way you desired. The frustration of needing to spend time with an elderly parent may bring up feelings of guilt about not being the perfect child, much like how you felt as a kid. The stress of buying the presents, doing the cooking, sending the cards etc. can raise resentment about not feeling supported by your partner. Or perhaps the idea of Christmas being a loving, family time highlights the betrayal you felt at your partner?s previous affair. With all of these potential pitfalls, it?s understandable, then, that thinking about how you?ll cope during this time of year may make you feel quite anxious.
There can often be an expectation that the way Christmas is ?done? either should or will be how it happened in your house when you were growing up. When to eat, what to give, who to invite etc. Such assumptions can mean expectations are rarely discussed, which can naturally create tension if your partner has a completely different approach. Beliefs about how the day will go can also bring up anxieties about the stuff you may fear happening too. Perhaps anxiety about arguments breaking out with family members, feeling taken for granted by certain people, coming to terms with spending time alone or feeling overwhelmed by spending so much time with family. All of these situations can be difficult to manage at the best of times, without the added pressure of Christmas cheer.
The anxiety surrounding these expectations can lead couples to avoid having a conversation about how they would like to spend the festive period. This can cause frustration when things don?t turn out according to plan. But the problem is, most people forget to share their plan. It may exist in your head, and you assume everyone is on board with it. However, what seems obvious to you may be completely alien to someone else. It can sometimes be difficult sharing your expectations because you know your partner or other family members may have a different view, which you believe is going to make life difficult for you. ?If only they?d do things my way!? you may say. The thing is, they might be saying the exact same thing, if not out loud, maybe in their heads too.
If any of this sounds familiar, here are a few things to remember that may help. Some of these may seem obvious, but by making them conscious, it can open up a conversation with you partner and family that may just make this Christmas feel a little easier:
Talk about how you imagine the day will go. Having some insight into the expectations of the people you?ll be spending time with over Christmas may help you avoid some of the disagreements that could break out when you want to do things one way and they have different ideas. Make the time to have a conversation in advance and become aware of where tension may arise. Think with them about how you can all do your best to manage or compromise on certain expectations so that disagreements don?t get out of hand and everyone is on board (as much as possible) with how you?d all like to spend your time together.
Don?t expect too much (of yourself or others). Chestnuts roasting on an open fire may be the Christmas day dream, but don?t get caught up in trying to achieve the picture-perfect Christmas. Know that there?s the potential for things to go wrong and try to make peace with it ahead of time. There may be some things that don?t work out how you?d have liked, or simply couldn?t have been planned for. Does it really matter if dinner is served later than planned? A disagreement breaking out at some point may well be inevitable. Remember that even with all the seasonal pressure, you are still human and that means mistakes will be made, and that?s ok.
Think about who you do (and don?t) want to be around. It can be overwhelming to spend so much time inside the same four walls with people, some of whom you may actively avoid at other times of the year. If it all starts to feel too much, think in advance of ways to make some time for yourself. Maybe taking a walk by yourself, even if just to walk around the block. Equally, if you know you can feel lonely at Christmas time, you may want to think about who you can reach out to and agree in advance that you may be in touch with them at some point. It doesn?t have to be family, think about close friends too. If you?re feeling particularly lonely and feel as if there?s nowhere to turn, The Samaritans are available to call year-round, 24-hours a day.
Go easy on yourself. A successful family Christmas is not your sole responsibility. Get others involved in the preparation. Arrange a time to talk through everything that needs to be done and agree how you will split the tasks. You may not be able to achieve everything to the standard that you set yourself, and that?s ok. By sharing the preparations and Christmas day tasks with others, you may feel more supported if things don?t go as imagined, and you may also have a bit more patience for others who fall short of the mark.
Be aware of your triggers. There may well be some aspects of the festive period that bring up old feelings or past hurts that can be hard to deal with. Maybe you?re sensitive when it comes to buying baby gifts if you?re longing for a child or have lost a baby. It could be painful not to have a parent around anymore. Such thoughts could leave you with complex, conflicting feelings. Making yourself aware of these triggers, as difficult as it may be, is one of the ways that could help you become lessreactive to them if they come up. Know that it?s normal to have these feelings and you may want to consider therapy in the New Year to help you manage them in future.
Remember, it?s just one day of the year. It can be common for people to hold on to resentment for the failures of Christmas past. However, the quality of your Christmas does not have to dictate the quality of your family relationships for the rest of the year. If the turkey burns, toys are broken or Santa gets stuck in your chimney, try not to use these things are a reason to build resentment that you carry into next year. If arguments break out, try to find some time after the festive period to have a calm conversation with the people involved so that you can lay it to rest and try again next year. The conversation may highlight things about your general interaction that could be worked on together, either through therapy or in some other form.
In a nutshell, there are of course no surefire ways to guarantee a successful family Christmas, but hopefully some of the things highlighted here will help you survive it for another year and prompt some thought about how you could improve your relationships for 2020.
Wishing you and your loved ones the very best this Christmas.