Navigating the Christmas stress.
Amongst the festive cheer and the excitement of the big day, there’s also the stress of trying to please members of your extended family. You may feel pressure to visit family, meaning potential traffic jam headaches and the stress of packing up everything to tiptoe around in someone else’s house. It’s important to consider what is right for you and your immediate family over Christmas without having to please others. It might feel stressful to speak up, but it will be worth it on the day when you’re running the show.
Christmas and family
An international study found that 84% of respondents were spending Christmas with family, and 61% anticipated that they would argue with relatives over Christmas. I know I’m not the only one who dreads the pressure of the extended family at Christmas, and the figures suggest that it’s a potential time for arguing and conflict. As a mum of two young boys, my husband and I have annually faced the stress of being requested to visit extended family over Christmas. When we finally said no, it felt a relief to do what we wanted with our boys.
The power of ‘No.’
It’s not easy to say no to family, especially at Christmas. Behind their invite to host Christmas, there are probably good intentions because they want a large, traditional family get together. You have to consider how that suits you and your immediate family. It can be stressful to drive long distances in the Christmas rush, and not everyone has time off work for the entire Christmas period. If you only get two days, you need to question whether you want to spend those travelling to visit others. Aren’t we supposed to relax at Christmas too?
Fear of the extended family
After I got married, I admit, Christmas used to scare me because we would be expected to spend the day at the in-law’s house. It’s not a long drive, about an hour on a good day, but the M25 on Christmas Day isn’t exactly compatible with a stress-free drive. However, every other year, we would do the visit to keep the extended family relationships on a steady keel. It’s the tradition in the in-laws household to host, so who was I as the new wife to complain or worst still, decline the invite?
Children changed tradition
Christmas changed when we had our children. When my youngest was three months old, I sat in the in-law’s lounge in the dusky dawn of Boxing Day, feeding my son. I willed him not to cry so that we wouldn’t stir the house full of sleeping adults, all dozy from too many ports. I wanted to be one of them, but I had a baby to look after. That’s not to mention the amount of kit I had to pack in the car for a visit; presents, nappies, bottle sterilizer, two travel cots, clothes and the list goes on. All for one day and night and so we didn’t upset the extended family. All I wanted for Christmas was to be in my own home.
I don’t know why we did it. We should have said no, it was too exhausting for all of us, but we didn’t want to upset anyone. Which, when I say it out loud, sounds ridiculous. Perhaps we were also hesitant to say no because there was an element of wanting to hang on to old Christmas traditions. I just wanted to please everyone and forgot to please my immediate family and myself.
Change is positive
The potential for change means that you can start your own Christmas traditions rather than just carrying on the old ones. Spending Christmas in your home and hosting creates new traditions. It depends on what you worry about too. I find hosting easier than being hosted in that I enjoy cooking, and I would rather be at home than have to be organised enough to stay at someone else’s home. Now we have said no to travelling anywhere on Christmas Day; the message is well and truly out there. Christmas is less stressful because we don’t have to have those awkward ‘Where are we spending Christmas Day?’ conversations.
Host and invite
If you’ve rejected the advances of the extended family Christmas invites, then why not ease the guilt by inviting them to you? Call it compromise and erase the guilt. You can still be together but in your own home. I have a friend who hosts an open house on Christmas day for her large family. There’s only one rule: bring part of the traditional meal. That way, she doesn’t have to spend all day cooking, and the food budget is split. Don’t be afraid to assert your preferences at Christmas; otherwise, it can become an ordeal rather than a happy period.
Now that we’re grown-ups a lot of life is about juggling a hundred bouncing balls, making decisions, being accountable and responsible, and also learning to say no. It can be scary and daunting, but it’s important to do what is right for your immediate family too. You really can’t please everyone. As my boys get older, they want to wake up in their beds on Christmas Day and rummage in their stockings. They want to poke at presents around the tree and not be rushed into a road trip. Call me Scrooge, but frankly, I don’t want to have to find room in the overpacked car if we buy them a bike if we stay with family on the day.
It’s not just family
I’m not sure if it’s a British thing, but why do we all have this mad panic about meeting before Christmas? I am guilty too of uttering the words, ‘We must get a date in the diary to meet before Christmas.’ Why though? Considering January is often devoid of social events, it’s a good thing to wait and meet then instead. It becomes completely over the top otherwise, and you end up saying yes to everything and then having a December diary that resembles one belonging to cool kids in their twenties.
Christmas is about being kind to yourself and your family. Being out constantly before the big day is not only exhausting, but it’s expensive and sometimes draining. When you’re saying no to family, remember it extends to work and friend events too. Your family time over Christmas is precious, so think twice about accepting invites because it might be stressful.