Christ­mas can be the most dif­fi­cult time of the year

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

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