Experiencing the fallout of my parents' divorce at the tender age of two, I've known no different when it comes to Christmas celebrations. The advantage of having no memories of a unified family Christmas is that I revelled in having two distinct festive celebrations as a child. However, as I entered adulthood, the magic of dual Christmases was replaced with the complexities of blending families.
In my position as the youngest, I found myself shuttling between parents once I could drive, coordinating with my siblings to ensure we all saw each other over the holidays. This often resulted in me racing around, trying to be everywhere, and unfortunately, feeling utterly drained.
Now, with a family of my own, and the addition of another set of divorced parents (my husband's), the task of coordinating visits to parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and two sets of in-laws presents quite a challenge.
Drawing from my personal experiences, I have gained valuable insights about navigating the holiday season. Implementing some of these insights may prove difficult, given the high expectations and resistance to change that often accompany this festive period. However, I assure you that they are vital for truly enjoying this time and entering the new year with renewed energy, rather than feeling worn out.
Here are my recommended do's and don'ts for a harmonious holiday season:
- Plan ahead: Avoid last-minute arrangements and potential disappointments by planning your visits well in advance. Our family usually finalises our plans at the start of autumn, although we have also discussed this during the summer.
- Define your personal Christmas: Do not let the compulsion to please everyone dictate your holiday. Take a moment to reflect on what you genuinely enjoy about Christmas and incorporate those aspects into your celebration. Embrace the parts you love and let go of the ones you don't whenever possible.
- Avoid making assumptions: As the youngest, I managed to evade certain expectations by learning from my older siblings and consciously avoiding established patterns. If you find yourself stuck in an unsatisfactory routine, do not hesitate to change it. Announce your plans early, be kind but resolute. Initial resistance may arise, but you will thank yourself in subsequent years.
- Establish your own traditions: The merging of two families always leads to shifts in dynamics and expectations, whether you are married, in a new relationship, blending families, or co-parenting. Use this opportunity to create your own traditions. Discuss with your partner, and if applicable, your children, to develop a unique way of celebrating.
- Extend the festive period: Having a blended family often makes it impossible to see everyone in one day. Instead of trying to cram everything into a single day, schedule visits over the entire festive season.
- Avoid over-committing: Spread out your visits and resist the urge to over-commit. The festive season can be as long as you prefer - it can span a week, the entire month of December, or simply the day of Christmas itself.
- Make time for yourself: Amidst all the planning and visiting, ensure that you set aside some time for self-care. Relax, treat yourself, go outdoors – do what makes you happy. This will help you navigate family events without losing your cool. Remember to factor in some downtime. This is your Christmas too, and it is meant to be a break from work, not an opportunity to please others and end up exhausted. Plus, your kids will thank you for it; they just want to be home and play with their new toys, rather than endlessly visiting family.
- Establish boundaries: Families can be overwhelming, especially during the holidays. If you know that you can only handle certain family members in small doses, create boundaries and plan your visits accordingly. Focus on the quality of time spent together, rather than the quantity.
For us this year, we have decided to start a new tradition of spending Christmas Eve and Day at home with my Mum. This allows us to spread out our visits throughout the month, rather than cramming everything into the Christmas week. It also helps our kids, who are 5 and 2, avoid feeling overwhelmed by the abundance of presents. Additionally, we have chosen to have Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, so we can spend more time playing with the kids and less time in the kitchen on Christmas Day.
I encourage you to contemplate the type of Christmas you desire. Where can you find flexibility? Where do you need to set boundaries? Christmas often places immense pressure on families, so make sure you plan ahead and savour your own unique celebration.