What a Merry Mess
I broke down in tears over Christmas today.
My parents live a few hours away and the reality of not being able to have a normal holiday with them this year finally sank in as I texted with my mom about alternative ways to celebrate.
Up until that moment, ignoring the situation and hoping for a miracle were my coping strategies.
But, it’s December 6 and we need to have some idea of how we’re going to mark Christmas with our extended families this year. Enter all of the feelings. And the mom guilt overload.
Even SNL acknowledged the issue this week in their trademark funny way.
But today, I wasn’t feeling so funny.
There’s No Hallmark Movie About a Pandemic Christmas
October is when we usually nail down Thanksgiving and Christmas plans.
None of that happened this year.
Instead, we spent Thanksgiving home with our three kids. It was okay, but I left the long weekend feeling sad.
And then today, as we were trying to figure out how we were going to handle Christmas this year, I just lost it. I’m a chin-up kind of gal, so this blast of feelings took me by surprise.
Thankfully, I was able to lace up my hiking boots and put in a good 4 miles at Seidman Park while mulling everything over.
As the miles went by, a few things became clear.
Sidenote: Everything I write here is from my personal 40-something, married mom of 3, perspective. I don’t claim to know what’s going on in anyone else’s life. I’m writing because experience has taught me two things: (1) I’m usually not the only one grappling with an issue – sharing helps me connect with others in the same situation and I usually learn a lot from the community. And (2) Writing is therapeutic and helps me get a better handle on my thoughts and feelings.
Realization #1: Most Moms are Trying to Deliver Christmas Magic
Brene Brown has helped me unpack a lot of the expectations society places on women and mothers. (If you haven’t discovered her work, please go watch her Netflix special or pick up one of her books.)
Today, it just all came to a head, though, as I unloaded on my husband about how I felt obligated to provide a special holiday full of Christmas magic for my children and tend to the desires of relatives even in the middle of a pandemic.
Just think about that for a minute.
Since March, like many people, our family has experienced job loss, the crushing weight of running an event-related small business, virtual school, the worry of loved ones and friends in the hospital, friends’ businesses closing, and friends losing loved ones to COVID, not to mention the day-to-day exhaustion and stress of just living and working during these times.
Without realizing it, I was still living in the “mom needs to make Christmas special at all costs” mantra – even in the middle of a pandemic.
It’s my job, as a mom, to orchestrate memory-making birthdays and holidays, right? And of course, I want to make my own parents happy…
What I was long overdue for this morning was a reality check.
Realization #2: I Can Do NOTHING to Make Christmas Normal This Year
I have control of some things, but one thing I cannot control is the fact that we’re living through a pandemic right now.
If I choose to follow gathering guidelines, Christmas will look very different this year.
If I choose to ignore the health department’s guidelines and have a “normal” Christmas with extended family, COVID will still be lurking out there. There’s nothing normal about that.
It seems obvious now, but acknowledging and accepting the reality of the situation was a huge relief.
Realization #3: Ignoring Feelings Won’t Make them Disappear
Family is the most important thing. Growing up, we didn’t have much, but we had family and you always showed up for each other.
Saying we’re not coming for Christmas feels like the ultimate betrayal. Uncomfortable feelings bubbled up here. But instead of hoping they would just go away, I sat with them and labeled them: disappointment, failure, sadness.
Naming my feelings didn’t make them disappear but it did give me the power to dig into each feeling and decide if I wanted to take action.
Realization #4: I Have to Initiate Those Hard Conversations
Disappointment was a big one for me. The last thing I want to do is let anyone down.
By calling out this feeling I realized that I probably wasn’t the only one feeling disappointment and that I didn’t need to shoulder this burden alone. Instead of feeling like I had to solve the extended family’s holiday problems on my own, I reached out to start a conversation about the situation.
I also had to be honest with my kids about what this Christmas was going to look like. Many of our regular traditions are not going to happen. It’s okay to be sad about that and share that with each other. No one has to put on a fake happy face.
We also have the opportunity to find new ways to make the holidays meaningful. More on that in the next section.
Realization #5: I Can Make Plans that Honor the Spirit of the Christmas I’m Missing
Since waving a magic wand to make everything better isn’t an option, making plans that honor the spirit of Christmas is my next best choice.
For our family, giving and caring about others is a big part of what Christmas means to us.
We also look forward to family traditions like shared meals, gifts, and cookie & gingerbread house decorating.
For our family that lives nearby, we’re hoping to do a modified cookie exchange. For all family, we’ll try to do a zoom gift exchange and maybe play Jackbox together remotely.
We’re also looking for ways that our family can give back to the community as well. We may sponsor another family or find a way to do remote volunteer work.
Let’s Help Each Other
I would love to hear from anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation. How are you handling Christmas this year? We are all in this together.