Christmas stress: why reality doesn’t live up to the festive hype
Bet you’ve looked at those images of happy families in Christmas adverts and movies, and wondered why your family’s reality doesn’t quite live up to the media ideal.
Year after year, we parents set ourselves up for this wonderful Christmas-time. And every year, many of us end up disappointed when things don’t go quite according to the nostalgic script in our heads.
The dream of the festive ideal puts parents under Christmas stress: we feel pressured to provide the perfect festive season with piles of presents under the tree, even if our budget or family situation doesn’t allow for it.
Of course we all know and understand the limits of our own families. But somehow at Christmas, all that’s forgotten.
Here are a few common pre-Christmas media hypes that I can tell you about from personal experience:
The letter to Father Christmas
The dream: Your child writes a realistically-priced and varied list that offers lots of inspiration for aunties and uncles buying gifts this Christmas.
The reality: Your child’s list includes mainly impossible items, like ‘a room of my own’ or ‘a baby brother’, or highly expensive items that are way out of reach. Another problem: your child immediately seals the letter in an envelope without you having a chance to read it, and refuses to give you pointers, saying only smugly, ‘Santa will know’. So you veer blindly towards Christmas, feeling clueless about what to buy.
The present list
The dream: You have been stocking up on the perfect little gifts for the big day all year long and have been on top of the present list since October. By November, you’re finished and can relax and enjoy the run-up to Christmas.
The reality: Christmas seems to creep up on you every year. In October, you might buy a couple of bits and bobs. But then work deadlines and school to-dos get in the way and boom, suddenly it’s December and you’re stumbling blindly into the first circle of present-list hell, with the ticking of that horrible Christmas countdown in your head.
The great family day out to the outdoor ice rink
The dream: What larks and laughs you’ll have as you help your wobbly children find their feet on the ice. You all have so much fun, and it’s the perfect bonding experience. You finish by warming up over a lovely hot chocolate in the cosy café.
The reality: The man in front of you in the queue hires the last ‘penguin’ – the penguin-shaped balancing aid for kids aged up to eight who are learning to skate. This means that you have to go ‘old school’, holding up your precarious five-year-old by the armpits, leaving your seven-year-old at the mercy of the hordes of other skaters. Laughs? Only briefly. You’re too busy focusing on keeping everyone’s fingers intact. And in the café afterwards, you’ve got a bunch of crying, over-tired children. Fun.
Decorating the Christmas tree
The dream: Festive tunes are playing as you and the kids decorate the tree. Happy laughter rings out. And the end result is a tree so beautiful it’s worthy of its own page in Living etc.
The reality: The festive tunes may be playing, but no one notices the music above the squabbling about who’s going to put up those sparkly decorations. As the minutes pass, you grow increasingly alarmed at how the decorations are clumping together. Your vision of the perfect tree is fast vanishing. You have three choices: leave the tree as the children decorated it; decide to ‘correct’ the tree once the kids have gone to bed, with tales of the fussy-pants Christmas tree fairy the next morning; or risk upsetting them by tinkering around with it now. Either way, your perfect festive moment just isn’t happening.
The dream: The kids sleep in, giving you a well-earned lie-in. They are then in wonderful moods all morning and couldn’t be more thrilled with their stockings.
The reality: An incredibly early start means you are a bit bleary-eyed as you stumble over to watch the kids opening their stockings. They are so thrilled, it’s a pleasure to watch (indeed this could be the one perfect Christmas moment). But this blissful moment may be short-lived as the over-tiredness and excitement catches up and turns into disappointment, jealousy and whining.
The Christmas Day car journey
The dream: The car is packed full of presents and suitcases, the kids are humming Christmas carols and there’s a happy chatter as you draw near to the grandparents’ house.
The reality: The car is ready, but only just – you and your partner have been rowing about how many things you need to pack for just one night away. So you’re not on speaking terms for the first 30 minutes, and the kids are complaining of boredom before you even hit the motorway. Familiar? Oh, yes!