'Tis the season to be stressed

"If you feel your stress levels rising, take a deep breath and ask yourself: what is really important here?" ... Pinky McKay
"If you feel your stress levels rising, take a deep breath and ask yourself: what is really important here?" ... Pinky McKay 

Presents to buy, parties to plan (and attend), decorations and food to organise, standing in queues with excited children who want to meet the big man in the red suit (then shriek with fear when they get up close), and, if you’re expecting holiday visitors, cleaning and cooking and  preparing the spare room.

It’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed by pressure to make this time special for everybody around you, often at the expense of your own well-being. After all, just because it’s ‘that time of year’ doesn’t mean you have any more hours in each day. The ‘silly season’ can be enough to try the patience of the most well-intentioned super-mummy, and instead of feeling the joy, Christmas can see you becoming a Mummy Grinch and spoiling everybody’s fun.

You can almost be certain that just when you feel pushed to the absolute limit, your kids will start acting out too – they’re like little barometers of our own stress. As they catapult us directly into our ‘out of control’ zone, we react in ways that are irrational and way out of proportion to the event. Not only are we the parent we don’t want to be, we’ve turned into the parent we swore we would never become.

If you feel your stress levels rising at the mere thought of hitting the shops or choosing gifts – let alone spending Christmas day with relatives you try and avoid all year – slow down. Take a deep breath to centre yourself, then ask yourself: what is really important here? How do I really want my little ones to remember Christmas?  How can I ‘downsize’ while still making Christmas meaningful?  

For some mothers, like Melissa, a mum of three, Christmas may mean lots of tradition. Melissa says, “I love doing the house, the tree and the cards, making a gingerbread house, and driving round with the kids looking at the houses.” But these things don’t add to her seasonal stress because, to her, these experiences don’t count as extra demands. She says, “It’s not about doing all these things, but how we are being. There’s no point making a gingerbread house if I’m yelling at the kids, but it’s fun to make it together with them helping cut decorations out of the dough. And if I can’t manage everything, I don’t stress. The cards are important to me but last year I was so tired I didn’t do them, and it didn’t matter.”

If you’re panicking about Christmas day itself because it will involve spending time with family members who may be critical of your parenting style (“in my day …”) or intolerant of your little ones’ behaviour (from over-tired toddlers to a grizzly baby who’s likely to become more fractious if you’re tense about breastfeeding in front of Uncle Tom), talk to your partner beforehand about how you can be prepared. If you’re feeling vulnerable but have a supportive family member, such as a sister, ask her to be your buddy for the day so she can help you with your children, or help deflect any criticism that comes your way.

There are as many ways to celebrate Christmas as there are individual families, so it’s impossible to please everybody or to live up to high ideals of the perfect Christmas. But remember that you’re more likely to create happy memories for your children if you’re relaxed, so please give yourself the gift of kindness. Be as realistic about your expectations of yourself as you are with your children, stop to smell the pine needles, and do the things YOU enjoy. This way, you’ll feel the joy and be able to truly share it with your little ones.

Pinky McKay, International Board certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), specialises in gentle parenting techniques. Her four parenting books, as well as resources and her free e-newsletter, can be found on her website.