December. It's here. Which camp do you lie in -- "December - the most magical month" or "December - I can't wait until it's over".
I've always held onto the romantic view that December is magical. I love the season change, I love Christmas, I love how it brings out the giving side of people. I choose to continue loving December and all it has to offer. BUT... I see the other side too. I've been on the other side. The feelings of overwhelm, busyness, over-spending, over-indulging, loneliness, grief, and feeling a lack of connection and love that it brings up for a large part of the population cannot be ignored. These feelings are real. I've had my share of these feelings over the years. And I want to validate them for you if you're feeling any of them.
I remember the first few years after my divorce and how December became far less magical. I've felt sadness when the other parent had the kids for festive activities because they fell on his weekend and not mine. I've felt more loneliness and disconnected from my own family when they gathered over the holidays... because I felt like they just didn't fully understand my life anymore or the feelings I was experiencing (even though my family is full of love and support!). I've felt overwhelmed with the expectations of doing it ALL... baking, cooking the big dinner, attending all family functions (always involves travel), giving the kids ALL the items on their want list and spending way more than I had leaving me with more stress and anxiety. I've laid awake all night with "to do" lists running through my head and wondering how I would make everything "work"... as a single parent with a single income. I've over-eaten to the point that by January clothing doesn't feel the same and the January Blahs felt even more blah because I wasn't happy with myself. I've felt grief... over a life picture I thought I would have that I didn't.... as I woke up on my own Christmas morning waiting for my turn with the kids.
If I really stop and think about it, I put a lot of pressure on myself and created overwhelm for myself even before my marriage ended. I always wanted to make sure I Martha Stewarted the heck out of the holidays! To the point that it really stole the magic from me. I set myself up with expectations of myself, and felt because I did all those things last year, I HAVE to do them again this year... or I'd let someone down.
STOP. I had to stop. And maybe my divorce gave me a gift, in a way. I only say this 9 years later after many hurts have healed and many lessons learned. But the experience forced me to recognize and feel all the feelings and figure out how to get myself to the other side. The whole concept of sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better comes to mind. But I have once again found and cling to the romantic magical side of December.
So let's list some practical ways you can start to enjoy December. Remember... this is about you. Don't feel selfish when you implement any of these changes to your typical December!
Only do things that you feel you have the energy to do. Seriously. Stop baking the cookies. Stop saying "yes" to social activities you don't want to go to. Stop offering to host if that's an option. Cut back until you feel like it's manageable.
Start a new tradition that feels good for you and your family. I read somewhere that Iceland has a tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve after which the evening is spent reading and eating chocolate. I don't know if that's a fact, but doesn't this sound wonderful? Relaxed, low expectation, and a little "quiet, alone" time before the big day.
Ask yourself what brings you true joy and happiness... and do something that makes that feeling come alive for you. It might be as simple as a walk in the evening enjoying all the Christmas lights. Or lighting candles and enjoying a glass of wine in a bubble bath.
S-L-O-W D-O-W-N. Don't miss anything. Look around and enjoy the view, the smells, the sounds. Just take a minute and breathe it all in. Actually take 5-10 deep breaths to reset as many times as you need to this December. And while you're at it, slow down your chewing. Enjoy eat bite of indulgance - which will actually lead to eating less and feeling good at the end of December.
Limit your spending. Have open conversations with your kids and family about your smaller budget. If you're kids are still tiny, maybe you let them know Santa has more kids to make toys for this year so he's giving less to each child. Substitute the need for giving gifts with providing your kids with movie nights together, or drives to see fun Christmas lights... baking together, or some activities that cost a little less and take a little less energy.
Sit in your feelings of loneliness. Figure out what it is you think you need. Are you addicted to filling your time and when you have moments of alone time you always feeling lonely? Or do you lack the type of connections that truly make you feel "connected"? I think once we understand it a bit more, we can move through and find the healthy connections. Don't let society or Hallmark movies make you think you need a busy social life or a romantic partner. You don't. You can find your contentment with the right kinds of connections, friendships, activities and mindset. Sometimes it's a matter of ignoring what other people and the world think we need, and understanding our own needs a little more. Working on our own healing of hurts. (There is a lot here, I know... we will talk more about connections in the future!)
Simplify. If travel and family gatherings add too much stress and anxiety, be honest with your loved ones and eliminate it. Gather after the holidays, or at another time of year that has less involved. For those that always have family come to them -- understand that packing, traveling, and making sure gifts are in the right place at the right time all while juggling 2 single-parent schedules and kids that might not want to actually travel.... is hard. be more understanding.
Lower your expectations of yourself. You don't have to worry about letting others down because in keeping up a pace that is too much, you're letting yourself down. And that's a bigger issue. Start from scratch if you need to. Wipe the slate clean and just add in the things that you want to. I don't put lights up outside my house. I don't bake cookie trays for all the friends and coworkers I used to do it for. I don't say yes to all the festive functions (covid has helped slow life down in this respect too). I also don't travel at Christmas unless it is no stress.
Find professional support. For grief. For loneliness. For anxiety. For the things that are too much to handle and manage on your own.... there are many service provides equipped to guide you through your pain. Don't be afraid to do this. And there are often providers that will work on a sliding scale, so money should not be an issue.
Focus on the positive. Even if you don't think there is much for you right now... you survived yesterday. you got out of bed today. Your kids know you love them. The day is sunny and beautiful. Find the small pieces of positive and focus on them. Baby steps.
Let's make December magical again. And while we're at it, let's take the blah out of January! :)