So what does Christmas mean to you?
Does it mean socialising and enjoying getting a bit glammed up? And maybe a fair amount of alcohol and eating loads of interesting food? And thinking about people who you don’t see so much and want to connect with and nostalgia for your childhood and trying to find presents that show people how much they mean to you because you’ve found the ‘perfect’ thing? And lights and baubles, holly decorations, wreaths and candles? And carols, and nativities and possibly a church service? And time off work (possibly to sleep) and time with loved ones?
Are you forgetting the work deadlines and the exhaustion of midwinter and the lack of exercise and the desire to hibernate and the lack of daylight and the fact that most of your fruit tastes like it’s come from a million miles away and it’s rather cold outside and somehow you’ve got to navigate the perils of your family dynamics?
The thing is, before you have kids, it’s easier to ignore the difficult parts of the Christmas season because there are so many wonderful distractions. It’s not for nothing that so many different cultures celebrate midwinter in some way – it’s a hard time of year and we need lightness and a sense of hope to keep us going.
So what if you’re a new parent?
Well, the bad news is that your ability to do all the things that make winter more bearable are reduced (rest and socialising being big ones). Christmas is often NOT restful with a baby. And, if you’ve got the energy for it, your socialising is probably more of the daytime kind.
The biggest blow can be that we DON’T REALISE THIS. So Christmas becomes upsetting and disappointing. Without realising it, we’re hoping for a break and some fun and we struggle to get either.
Since it can be hard to know what’s going on (especially when sleep deprived), quite often we find ourselves feeling some pretty upsetting emotions. You might find yourself getting angry with the people around you, at your partner, family and friends, especially if they don’t understand the sense of loss and disappointment that you’re experiencing.
Or you might find yourself feeling low, anxious, overwhelmed or all of these, as you get angry and upset with yourself for not being able to enjoy Christmas.
Awareness is key. It can’t turn Christmas back to being the way it was before you became a parent, but it can help you get through this without becoming really low. Here are the stages I would suggest:
- When you feel yourself feeling upset/ low/ angry – be compassionate to yourself and see if you can figure out if there is something that is disappointing you/ some sense of loss. What did you want from this situation? What did you want from Christmas?
- Once you have identified what is causing that feeling (or even if you can’t) – reassure yourself that the way you are feeling is a natural response to loss/ disappointment. Look at any 2 or 3 year old if you want confirmation of that. Seriously – our emotions don’t ‘grow up’ – it’s just our responses to them.
- Check out whether you can change whatever is causing that sense of disappointment or loss. For example, it could be that you’re looking forward to more sleep – if that is the case then you can see if you can recruit someone to allow you more rest? Or is it the case that you want a break from the sense of responsibility (after all, until now maybe YOU have always been the ‘child’ at Christmas) – in which case, I’m sorry, that loss cannot be changed, only grieved.
- Once you have figured out what is causing you the pain or distress, then you can either make changes or grieve the losses. And if you’re grieving then give yourself space to grieve. Seriously. Don’t just expect yourself to ‘get over it’ or ‘grow up’. It’s painful and upsetting to lose something. Don’t just pretend everything is fine. You ARE okay, AND you feel rubbish. The two are not mutually exclusive.
I don’t know if this post will bring you glad tidings of comfort and joy, but hopefully it might help reassure you that however you are feeling at Christmas is probably a normal response to whatever is going on in your life.
If you’d like some help to figure out what is going on for you, then counselling is a really useful way of doing this. I’d be happy to chat about whether this would suit you and how it would work.