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Stress: a Christmas tradition to banish for good

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Stress: a Christmas tradition to banish for good

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Christmas is a time of celebration. It’s a time for family, gift giving, wonderful food and general excess for at least a month, nowadays. All of these things can be challenging on their own. However, layer on the societal expectation that Christmas will be a truly magical time and you have the potential for a vast amount of stress! Conflict over traditions; visiting people you only see once a year; staying with family whose opinions, from when to open presents to how to parent your children, don’t quite match yours!

Family “fun”

Spending time with extended family during the ‘magical’ period can be a wonderful opportunity. You may get to spend quality time with family who you don’t visit often. However, it can also mean travelling between ‘your’ family and your ‘in laws’. That, in itself, can entail LONG journeys with overexcited and exhausted children. Nothing says festive stress like being stuck in a Christmas traffic jam whilst wondering whether the kids will vomit up that entire selection box someone unwisely handed them as they got into the car! Often visiting both sets of grandparents in the days you’re off work, if you have time off, is driven by a sense of “fairness” to everyone. You have to dole out days between relatives with the same idea of equality as sharing chocolate buttons between siblings! 

If this doesn’t work for you and your family because it is just too much with babies or small children, or because it is exhausting then say so. Maybe try it once. If it was incredibly stressful for you and your family look into something else.

Stress busting the family Christmas

  • Talk to your extended family. Hopefully you love and want the best for each other. They probably don’t want Christmas to be a cause of stress.So, approach the situation as adults; not as their ‘children’. This gives you opportunity to negotiate. Remember, you can say no to anything you aren’t comfortable with. It’s important to have discussed this with your partner, if applicable, too. That way you both know each other’s priorities and that you’re on the same page.
  • Christmas in November/January – try moving Christmas. Celebrate at a different time with one side of the family. Kids may think it’s awesome if they get to do Christmas twice. (Yule logs are reduced after Christmas too!)
  • Invite people to you – This suggestion may be most practical if family live locally. However, if you have space for people to stay, or there’s other family locally who can put people up this can still work. Being on home turf can help you and the children feel more at ease. It’s easier to do things your way in your own home too, whether it’s traditions or parenting questions.
  • Make space and time for you and your kids. If Christmas day is packed with activities from dawn to well past dusk, is that realistic for you and your kids? Would you be better off grabbing some wellies or a sling and running off some energy in the afternoon. You might even return with sleeping toddlers who may benefit from a much needed nap? If so, speak up. Opt out of the Queen’s speech, charades, spin the bottle, whatever. Advocate for yourself and your children and do what you need to do.
    Maybe if you suggest it everyone will join in…ok, you can just sneak out the back door if that option doesn’t thrill you!


saved me big bucks debt Christmas stress

So many people go into debt over Christmas and spend the New Year terrified of how they are going to pay it all off. Untold stress comes from the harmful idea that the perfect Christmas is priceless. We’re encouraged to spend money everywhere, on everything, and it all adds up.

There are lots of ways to avoid overspending on blogs such as  Money Saving Expert’s 44 Xmas Money Saving Tips

You could make a positive out of living within your means!

  • Buying less stuff saves the planet.
  • Make “no gift” pacts or set a gift budget with people you will exchange gifts with.
  • Ask for secondhand gifts such as books, to help charity and reduce waste
  • Buy whole family presents, whether a game for your sister’s family and their kids to play together, or a movie night hamper of a film and snacks.
  • Exchange gifts in the New Year – if you really want to get gifts for adults who understand budgetary constraints then agree to exchange in January. You get more for your money in the sales.

Christmas presents: parcels of stress tied up with a bow!

A baby resting on a pillow with piles of gifts on top of them

Feel like you need to give gifts to everyone, but don’t know what to give?

  • Ask what people would like or need: simple right? But getting something wanted, or contributing towards it may be more meaningful than generic stocking fillers.
  • Give gifts of experiences. Whether it’s wine-tasting, a baby massage course, or rally driving; club together with other people if needs be and give the gift of a memory, rather than an object.
  • Give time. Cook a meal, offer to babysit, teach a skill, invite someone around for a cuppa.  That’s a gift that makes a meaningful connection.
  • Got a crafty skill? Make a gift, or, even better, get your kids to. How can anyone ever be disappointed with footprints turned into reindeer adorning any number of items?!*
  • Also, gifts for babies: do you really need to?

*A word of warning: this takes time. Serious time. If you are going to make every member of your family a blanket then either begin in January, or prepare to send an IOU with details of the handcrafted delight that is to come. Trust me. I’ve been there. (Flipping Doctor Who scarves!)

InstaPerfection! Nailed it.

the stress of Christmas perfection on social media. Two images: one showing a radiantly smiling baby wearing a silly hat and wrapped in fairy lights, the other showing a slumped grumpy looking baby in a festive hat. Showing constrast between social media and reality.
  • Is your house instaworthy? Your tree?
  • Do your kids have the right entranced expressions as they open their gifts?
  • Are you living more for what strangers think of your life than enjoying the moment?
  • Social media can be a great way to share our joy AND our struggles, to seek support and to feel that we are not alone. But if social media is causing you stress, ditch it, or rejig it, cut some of the aspirational accounts that make you feel inferior, they probably don’t mean to, but your family wants you to be present in your life, not striving to live someone else’s!

Cooking Christmas dinner: one meal, so much stress

The traditional turkey dinner

  • Plan ahead: If you’re doing the whole ‘goose the size of a Victorian street urchin’ thing then this really helps. Write down what temperature everything needs to cook at and for how long. Decide what time you want to eat, then work it back to see when everything needs to go in. Try this Christmas Dinner Planner Tool
  • Prep ahead: veg prep watching Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas is my fondest memory of Christmas Eve as a child. Stuffing balls can be made up and frozen before cooking, or Paxo is prep free! Last time I did turkey I roasted it the day before. That freed up loads of oven space and reduced stress on Christmas day!
  • Feed and entertain the kids. Ideally, put someone else in charge of preventing the kids from getting so hungry they are gnawing through the Christmas tree before dinner is ready.
  • Avoid incessant “is it ready yet?” by setting up games to play, treasure hunts to complete (or make it up on the fly: “bring me 4 different purple things, as fast as you can”! Make their stocking fillers/gifts books, games or toys that are likely to entertain them for an hour or so. Preferably without needing an adult and an engineering degree to set up!
  • Buy ready made if it works on your budget. If you are cooking for extended family then ask family members to take responsibility for some trimming each. BBC Good Food have advice on How to make Christmas Dinner Cooking a family affair.
  • Make things easier: only cooking for 2 adults and 2 kids? Do you really NEED a turkey? Would a chicken be cheaper and easier?

Other options

  • DON’T cook Christmas dinner. Radical, I know, but just because everyone else is eating turkey and sprouts, doesn’t mean you can’t have curry, or tacos, or beef, or lasagne! You might be able to have an amazing meal containing elements of everyone’s favourite things. Have your toddler’s favourite, garlic bread, with your favourite curry. Maybe keep the pigs in blankets. Make up your own Christmas dinner! If Christmas dinner is a source of stress then rethink. Buffet style food? Pizza? It really is up to you!

Party Season

  • Parties are about having fun and celebrating together, so if you’re going to parties do it because you WANT to.
  • Dress stress? What to wear?! Clothes are the most appropriate thing usually. Add sequins to turn an existing jumper into a Christmas jumper. Wear the same dress as last year, nobody will cross check.
  • “I hate my body!” is an often present internal narrative. Please try not to. Your body is awesome. It is the living shell that hosts the wonderful person that is you. It has grown life, or worked to support life. Your body is so much more than its shape and size. It is strength and potential and deserves to be loved, treated with respect and kindness. Affirmations and focusing on what your body can do can really help change this mindset. (We know, we have been right there with you. x)
  • Party for one: you don’t have to party. If Christmas parties are a source of stress then don’t go. Chill at home. Write some meaningful message in a few cards, have a hot chocolate and read, cuddle up to your loved ones. It is ok to make the right choice for you.

We hope that you have a lovely restful Christmas celebrating the way you feel works best for you and your family, with as little stress as possible! Have yourself a calm little Christmas!

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Being a parent, Calmer relationships, Family activities, Parents & families
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