Christmas can be the most difficult time of the year
t’s a time to celebrate family, enjoy each other’s company and bask in the joy that comes with giving and receiving. But the reality of Christmas for many people is that it’s fast becoming the most stressful time of the year. In fact, in a UK survey a quarter of respondents rated Christmas as more stressful than divorce and 15 per cent said it was worse than moving house.
With a greater percentage of blended and step families, interracial, single-parent, same-sex and multigenerational groups in our community, there are plenty of opportunities for Christmas Day tensions to simmer over.
Regardless of where the festive holiday falls on your own stress scale, experts claim people find Christmas increasingly difficult due to the heightened pressure of having a Facebook perfect experience.
Psychotherapist and relationship specialist Melissa Ferrari says the holiday can be a trying time for many family groups.
“Christmas is considered to be one of the sixth most stressful life events and it brings a whole host of potential difficulties for families and couples to navigate,” she says. “Being out of routine, seeing family that you may not have seen all year, spending more time together sometimes without a break for days, shopping for presents, not knowing what to buy — these are just some of the pressures that can increase anxiety and conflict.
“And social media can definitely play a big part in creating unnecessary stress for people as they experience FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and jealousy when looking at other people’s picture perfect lives on Facebook and Instagram. Remember that people generally only present their best selves on social media, so what you’re seeing is not necessarily a true reflection of their life and relationships.”
Anne Hollonds from the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) says separated and divorced family groups can experience a big challenge on Christmas Day, in particular the negotiations over which side of the family children spend the all-important day with.
“While everyone manages it OK throughout the rest of the year, it has the potential to boil over at Christmas,” the AIFS director says.
“Who has the kids on Christmas Day is a big topic and my advice to these parents is to take a chill pill. You have to ask yourself how do you want your kids to remember their childhood? You are responsible for creating their memories.”
Susan Lancaster, from Sydney Stepfamily Counselling, says too many families focus on what they have lost at Christmas when they should be celebrating what they have gained. “Let the Christmas holidays be a time of learning and developing your new stepfamily,” she says.
“New stepfamilies are not losing old traditions and rituals, they are forming new ones.”
Another common cause of tension at Christmas is between family members who may not have seen each other all year and are suddenly forced together in what is expected to be a perfect day.
“Try to come at your best,” Hollonds advises. “Make the best contribution you can, chances are this is really important to someone in your family, and lets face it, it’s a sacrifice we have to make for just a Amanda Walsh says Christmas Day is the most challenging time of year for blended and stepfamilies. This year she will celebrate Christmas Day without her daughters, Peyton, 7, and Kayleigh, 6, who will be with her exhusband. Amanda says: “My husband and I split up three years ago when our daughters were three and five, and for the past two years they have spent Christmas morning with me and then I have handed them to him at 11.30am.
“That arrangement was awful because right in the middle of the day H Happyapppy days: Candice and Nilo Ibabaru with daughters Jacqueline and L eona enjoenjoy family Christmas traditions. Picture: Jane Dempster few hours once a year. Where it is really hard is where there are unresolved issues with someone in that group that really, really upset you and you may still be angry about.
“Try to have strategies on how you will manage yourself, maybe you won’t have too much to drink or you’ll make a point of not being left alone with certain members of the family. Think about how your attitude and actions will impact on the whole group that has gathered.”
Hollonds adds that while religion and politics are common boiling point topics among family members, the same sex-marriage debate will have shone a spotlight on this issue this year. Whether you have a gay couple in your family group or not, we would have to do a three- to fourhour round trip for the swap, as he lives in Sydney and I’m in the Hunter Valley. I have a two-year-old son with my fiance, Adam Hampton (pictured with the family), and the arrangement meant no one could really celebrate Christmas. We were never able to see Adam’s family and it was just rush, rush, rush on Christmas morning. Everyone’s Christmas was ruined and really stressful. I hated Christmas because of that.
“I finally convinced my ex it would be much better if we alternated sharing Christmas Day with the girls and this year is the first time we are doing that.
“I told him he could have them for the first year because I’ve had them Christmas morning for the last two years. Of course, I’m sad that I won’t wake up on Christmas morning with them, but I’m focusing on the positives, that they will enjoy their Christmas more and next year I can have my three children, including Jayden, together.
“This year, I’ll have the girls back on Boxing Day and they’re excited because they said they get to have two Christmases. There are so many people struggling at this time of year, for blended and stepfamilies Christmas can be the most difficult time of the year. My advice to them is to keep working to find a solution that suits everyone, not just one side.”