Coping WIth Christmas
by kat hobza When I saw the mall decorated for Christmas the first week of November, I wanted to buy a ticket to Mexico with a return date of January 2nd. I became overwhelmed with the details; Christmas cards, dragging out tubs of decorations, parties, visitors, commitments, obligations, hours of shopping and wrapping. I resisted the urge to curl up in the fetal position on Dillard’s perfume counter. All I wanted to do was take a big, fat pass on Christmas. To think all this bah-humbug-ness is coming from a former Christmas freak. My mother used to call on the Fourth of July and ask if my Christmas tree was up yet! Mother is prone to exaggeration, but I did cheerfully decorate my home for the holidays the weekend before Thanksgiving, and yes, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation played in the background. I used to make my husband risk his life stringing lights on the peaks of our home at least a month before the blessed event. I remember a neighbor coming over after I had decked the halls. She greeted me with, “Good grief. It looks like Santa threw up in here.” I had boxes of pre-wrapped gifts from after-Christmas sales the year before, just waiting to be distributed. My Christmas letter was done and mailed by November 15th. Perhaps my attitude could be attributed to burnout, but after an informal and very unscientific survey of my peers, I learned I’m not alone. Sadly, for many parents, Christmas just becomes another chore; another list of to-dos that gets added to an already crowded to-do list. What I needed this year was some Christmas cheer. I sat down with my good friend and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor Lee Oldenburg to discuss why the holidays can feel burdensome and what we can do to not just keep afloat, but to actually enjoy Christmas again. Kat: Why do we feel so overwhelmed at the holidays? Lee: It’s really easy to get distracted by things that don’t matter- like the perfect tree or a thousand twinkling lights in the yard. I try to impress upon people to keep their expectations reasonable. Everyone wants that Norman Rockwell Christmas. Have what I call a “common sense” Christmas by figuring out what is most important to you and your kids. Kat: Okay, how do we do that? Lee: Take care of yourself first. I liken it to the airlines, when the oxygen masks fall down and they tell adults to take care of themselves first before helping younger passengers. Our knee jerk reaction is take care of the kids first, but if we pass out, we won’t be of much help to them. Kat: Hmmm. That’s pretty good. What else? Lee: Be flexible where traditions are concerned. I try to ask myself, and then my family, what traditions are truly important. My son says I have to make meatballs; my daughter wants to frost cookies. Last year, we bought cookies and frosted them. Years ago I would have made homemade cookies instead of buying them. And if there comes a day when I have to buy the meatballs, then I’ll buy the meatballs. Kat: Just make sure your son doesn’t see them go from the freezer to the oven! Lee: It’s the little things we have to focus on. Kat: Let’s dive into something “meatier” like family dysfunction, which can mar any holiday. Lee: If you don’t get along with your family the rest of the year, the holidays aren’t going to make it any better. I remind people that love comes in all flavors and that they don’t have to be stuck with the family they are born with. Make your own. Actively seek a family if you need to; a church, a neighborhood. Limit time with difficult people. Kat: Limits are good. Lee: This applies to gift giving too. Kids are kind of spoiled these days. Don’t be afraid to discuss the struggling economy with your kids and remind them of the three things that really count this time of year; faith, family and friends. Figure out small things that your kids will remember for the rest of their lives. Hang out with your kids in your PJs. Take a vacation during the holidays. Kids won’t remember 15 years from now what you put under the tree. Don’t get caught up in competing with Grandma or your ex when it comes to gift giving. Also, don’t be afraid to have an open discussion with your kids about this. Kat: Uh, what you’re describing sounds like a fun Christmas. Any parting pearls of wisdom? Lee: Tell people you love them. Make a conscience decision to look at Grandma or whoever and tell them, “I love you.” Christmas is a great time to make memories out of moments. SFM Lee shares a few reminders from the Mental Health Association concerning the holidays: . Let go of the past. Life brings changes; your holidays will change too. . Don’t drink or change your diet too much. Keep routines as much as possible- this applies to you and your kids. . Lots of festive activities don’t cost money. Drive around and look at Christmas lights, go to church, help the neighbor build a snowman. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a meaningful Christmas. . Spend time with people who are supportive and who care about you. You don’t have to attend every holiday function. Choose carefully. If you and the kids get overtired, skip activities. . Find time for yourself. If you’re depressed during the year, chances are you’ll be depressed at the holidays. Do all the things Grandma told you to do; sleep, exercise, take your vitamins. Kat Hobza, a Billings mother, elementary school aide and writer/editor wishes SFM readers a warm, memorable holiday season!