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Coping with Christmas family stress

family spending christmas together 

Christmas can be a stressful time of year and takes its toll not only physically, with the never-ending to do list, but emotionally too. With so much going on, from family politics to financial difficulties, it can be hard to feel the festive spirit. Balancing all the things that come with Christmas isn't always an easy task, but if you're having a hard time this year, you can take comfort in knowing that you aren't alone.  

 

Competitive grandparents

It's not easy to be even-handed amongst grandchildren at the best of times. But how to manage when you have someone in the same position competing to outdo you?

"My grandchildren's other grandma is unbelievably competitive. She is so determined to be the most popular grandma that she spends a fortune on toys, clothes, holidays and activities for them. I know there is an element of competition in it (rather than just the usual wish to spoil grandkids) because if we ever give the kids anything that takes their fancy, you can bet that a week later, she has bought them the deluxe gold-plated version!" 

"Early on, I took a conscious decision NOT to enter this particular competition and to do with the children what I enjoy (and I hope they do)." 

"Don't play the game! Children are not stupid and they know. What counts is the amount of time with them, playing with them, reading to them, listening to them and understanding them - that is what makes for a good relationship." 

 

If your family is far away

string phone

It can be hard when your family is elsewhere at Christmas. Try to remember that you're not the only one who's in this situation and that Christmas is only one day of the year, not a miracle relationship cure. It's okay to find it hard to manage though; plenty of others find it difficult to get through the holiday season, especially when long-distance is involved. 

"My gran had two sons. One, my father, died at 34, and two years later, his brother emigrated with his toddlers to the other side of Canada. This was the mid-1950s and she didn't even have a phone. So I remind myself how brave she had to be." 

"I see enough shining eyes and happy faces in the course of the year, and don't have to see them under the Christmas tree." 

"Remember other people are a lot worse off. Count your blessings; do things for others; focus on the moment; look after yourself and try to keep fit; work at avoiding negativity and try to keep busy." 

 

A small Christmas

gift and magnifying glass

One of the worst things about spending Christmas with just a small number of people (or solo) can be other people's reactions. But small can be beautiful...

"That pressure is so awful for those whose families are less than they would wish, or even non-existent. We did Christmas with just the two of us last year, as family were elsewhere, and the pity of others was awful. Why do we have to defend little Christmases?" 

"We mark Yuletide in a small way - nobody gets stressed and we all quite enjoy it. Christmas dinner will be something or other that isn't turkey. Roast lamb is a fave, or duck, or a Lebanese lamb with bulgur wheat recipe I have." 

"My partner and I will spend Christmas Day on our own - because we're too far apart from the family geographically to walk to see them and we no longer have a car. We may see one or two of them, if they can make it down to us, but it's unlikely and it really doesn't matter. Our meal, which I'm really looking forward to, is a meal which will be delivered from our favourite friendly Indian restaurant!" 

So, feel righteous in spending Christmas your way, free of others' judgement - there are plenty of grandparents who don't like Christmas. And there are plenty of things to do if you're alone this festive season.

 

Money-saving

Christmas shopping list

It's not only our waistlines that feel the strain at Christmas, but our purse strings too. But with a little careful planning, and maybe a few DIY Christmas gifts, this year could be very different.

"In times past when money's been very tight at Christmas I've made 'vouchers' for afternoon tea or a special meal to be redeemed at a later date so that I can stretch my spending, but still have something to give on the day." 

"I do not buy gifts for my children or their spouses and they do not buy for me. The grandchildren get several toys and something to wear. I don't think my children care any less for my husband or me because of this." 

"Wrap all Christmas presents in brown paper and decorate them with pictures cut from old Christmas magazines and some of last year's Christmas cards." 

"I buy my staples for November and December early (cleaning products, loo rolls, pet food etc.). That way, I can use my grocery budget to buy presents that will be appreciated." 

 

Shake it up

snow globe

If you're not happy about facing a Christmas on your own, here are things you could do. And check out our page on dealing with loneliness at Christmas.

"You could try Googling short breaks and weekends away and NOT Christmas and see what comes up. You will not be alone." 

"Even if you are not religious, you can turn up at any church in Britain at Christmas and be welcomed and greeted warmly. There are many events organised too that have nothing to do with churches or religious celebrations for those who want them." 

"Close friends of mine are hosting a free Christmas lunch in our town for anyone who would otherwise be on their own and would prefer a bit of company. Their young-adult children and several other young people have volunteered to help, local shops are donating food and a church hall has been offered as a location."

 

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