Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Balancing the holiday emotions

I'm so glad that Yahoo Motherboards picked the topic of holiday stress for December.

While this year, I'm finding my holiday spirit just fine, this has not always been the case for me.

I thought the holidays were stressful when I was with X. Like most moms, I wanted to create a magical day for my daughters. X's issues made that...well, impossible.

When I left my X, I wasn't quite prepared for the holidays to continue to be stressful.

It all came to a head for me two years ago.

After 4 years of doing it on my own, I didn't know if I could do it anymore. I felt like I had worked so hard for so long (this was a year after I graduated college), and the holiday season came along, and I was still stressed about money. I simply did not have enough to create what I wanted to give my girls.

It's all well and good to say holidays aren't about money, but as a mother, of course I want to give my children a tree full of shiny presents! Not to mention, all the friends and family that have been there for me. The holidays are the time that you display your gratitude with a token.

And, yes, I'll admit, it can be hard to see all these happy two-parent families enjoying the holiday celebrations together. That year in particular was hard. I had never in a million years thought that I would be a single mom for so many years.

Just to add insult to injury, we had to cancel the girls' trip between Xmas and New Year's to see X and his family because X had landed himself in jail again. On top of dealing with the girls' disappointment, I fell apart.

I had already requested the vacation from work because I needed a break from everything. I was holding everything together by a thread and the only thing that had been getting me through is the knowledge that I just had to make it until Dec. 26. Then, the girls would be gone, and I could fall apart. I could cry all day if I wanted to. I could not be a mom for a while. And now the one thing that I really needed for my own sanity was gone.

I ended up falling apart at a holiday party. It wasn't pretty, let me tell you. But I could no longer hold on a minute longer.

The thing is, as much joy and love as this season can bring, I see the other side very clearly. I've been called a Scrooge, I've been labeled with the Holiday Blues, but I can't dismiss others suffering this season. I know how it feels to look back on the year and feel like a failure. While even at my worst, I would never contemplate suicide myself, I understand why people do.

Last year, I survived by the Power of Negative Thinking. I expected nothing. I went numb while I just went through the motions. And while that might sound bad, believe me, it's WAY better than the disappointment I'd felt the previous year. Losing expectations can be a wonderful thing.

The only reason I have holiday cheer this season is because we are not being traditional. None of us are expecting to be able to repeat this trip to NY next year. We're going to enjoy it for all its worth, knowing it's a one-time thing. Because this year we are facing the facts: we are not a traditional family.

I know there are people who love it. And I know that the girls have had many assignments about family traditions (which make my eyes roll every time). That's just great for some people. But there are plenty of people for whom this just isn't either feasible or desirable.

This year especially, there are people who do not have the same things they did last year to re-create last year's holiday. They've lost their job or their home, or both. And the holidays are a harsh reminder of all they have lost.

Some people thought this year would be different: that a year later, they would have more, and find themselves, through the cruelty of unexpected events, in a worse position this year. It's hard not to feel like a failure in those circumstances. The holiday season may not be about money, but it is about reflection. And some people are frustrated with that reflection.

And it's those people that get labeled a Scrooge. It's those people that are dismissed. In the season where we're supposed to be experiencing an overabundance of love and warmth, it's those people that feel alone in a crowd.

To me, what would most embody the holiday spirit is the idea that it doesn't have to be anything. Perhaps it won't be a holiday that our children remember most. Perhaps it'll be the singing in the car together, or the laughter shared.

My own girls notice the difference in me already this season. I don't know what I'll do next year. I may have to go back to just being numb and look forward to January 2. After all, this season remains, thankfully, just one month out of the year.


MindyMom said...

I agree that lowering the expectations can be a good thing and erases the chances of being disappointed.

Another is acceptance; acceptance of what is. It will be a tighter Christmas than ever for us, and each year it gets tighter, but I actually find myself enjoying it MORE! There is less hassle, pomp and circumstance and more REAL joy.

Great post, April.

Anonymous said...

I have been working on creating traditions that don't cost anything and trying to take away from all the present hoopla. We are going with a more Kwanza type Christmas this year and making gifts. It gives us quality time to spend together and less of the money stress.

Kori said...

I wish my attitude was more like yours; I WANT the traditions, and can't have them, and don't expect them-so I wish I could be more like you in accepting that it isn't going to be any different, you know? And I think traditions are very important, not just for us but for our kids, but I wish the world didn't tell us all that THIS holiday has to be a tradition, you know?

Jen said...


For very different reasons, I've struggled with the holiday "thing" too.

And you know what, I read your blog and think "Wow, they have so many family traditions, and we don't have any." Ironic, huh?

You know what I see as your family traditions? The fact that you go to theater together. You and Riley attend Sylvia's performances and you and Sylvia attend Riley's special moments. You go to "the happiest place on earth" when you can. You watch shows together. You all love the arts and take as much advantage of it as you can.

To me, those are amazing family traditions.

The hell with holidays. Bah, humbug! ;-)

So Single said...

I know that feeling of going numb - expect nothing so you can't be disappointed.

We don't have many traditions at all, except that we open on Christmas Eve. ALL the presents. And I love that. Santa brings unwrapped gifts in the morning, and it's usually the BIG gift.

I know it's not supposed to be all ab out presents, but you're right - who can resist the desire to see their kids face's light up from opening the perfect gift?

Karen MEG said...

I can't really get into the holidays - is that bad? I'm so busy this year, and even the Christmas music is getting on my nerves...I know, bah humbug!

Unknown said...

Thanks for this post. It was lovely and something I most definitely needed to read today.

Today as the girls and I walked through the mall (not buying anything - just for something to do) I felt like that person all alone in the crowd, mostly because I don't have the financial freedom right now and might not, period.

I do want to give my kids the traditional, magical Christmas but I just don't think it's possible this year. And while it makes me want to cry, I've accepted that fact and am trying to enrich the season other ways. Tonight we're going to a free tree lighting ceremony and in a way I believe they'll remember those kinds of things more than abundance of toys which will eventually find their way to goodwill.

You're so right ... the season doesn't have to be anything.

Cat said...

That's my perfect holiday- nothing but love and rest. I want my boy to have presents, but I want them to be things that MEAN something or are useful. This year he gets a wagon and a bunch of balls, because he loves walks and balls. Last year he got wooden toys- which he still plays with. The holidays are what you make of them, presents or none, better or worse. It should be about love.

Shiona said...

Yes it's definitely the little things. My family gets together and talks about God and then gets drunk and starts fighting. Most of us can get out of there before the last two events occur. But what kind of tradition is that. They may like it but not me. I just want to make sure I'm doing something with Jayson that reminds him each year how things could be so much different than they are.

Depression tends to set in for me a little around the holidays as well.

jenn said...

I alternate between excitement because Shiloh loves Christmas, and a little bit of sadness for not having anyone to share it with. But if it wasn't for Shiloh, I would probably completely hate the holidays.

I think it's nice that you are able to have a nontraditional Christmas. It sounds fun.