‘Tis the season for stress. I see it in the faces of passersby. I hear more horns being honked and sighs being exhaled than any other time of year. People are feeling disgruntled. Cookies need to be baked. Stamps have to be licked. Presents need to be wrapped. Stockings need to be hung by the chimney with care. You have to go back to the store AGAIN because you forgot the cherries for the fruit cake. On top of it all, you just got a call from your dad. He’s mad that you chose to go to your mom’s instead of his place on Christmas Eve. You feel like you’re being pulled in 10 different directions. In fact, it would take a Christmas miracle to make everyone happy.
There’s an old song that goes like this: “Over the hills and through the woods to grandma’s house we go. The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through white and drifted snow.” Wouldn’t it be great if life was as simple as a song? It would be so easy if we could just bundle up, hop in a sleigh and ride through the snow to Grandma’s. The whole extended family would be there singing and having a merry old time, and you would feel relaxed and jolly and filled with the holiday spirit.
Now let’s get real. That song was written around 1844. Nowadays, Granny is more likely to live in a neatly manicured subdivision in south Florida than just over the hill or in the snow. And instead of a sleigh, it takes a plane or two, a car and a cab ride to reach her, not to mention lots of patience if you have kids in tow.
If you are lucky (I use that term loosely) enough to have all your family close by, you might find yourself trying to squeeze as many gatherings as you can into the span of a couple of days, which can strip you of your holiday joy and leave you feeling like a Scrooge. Being divorced or having divorced parents can further complicate things and lead to a scheduling nightmare.
Take a deep breath and a few sips of eggnog and read on for tips on how to survive what I like to call the Holiday Shuffle.
Map it out
No matter how you cut it, someone in the family is bound to feel left out or have a problem with your decisions. Remain calm and remind them that you can’t clone yourself and be everywhere at once. Lower your stress by mapping out the plan well in advance. If Mom and Dad are divorced, alternate days each year. If you plan to spend Christmas Eve with your mom and Christmas day with your dad this year, do the opposite the following year. Make a quick call to let them both know they are important to you and then lay down the law. You may receive a guilt trip, but stick to your guns. You’ll be happier and less stressed in the long run.
Another option is to celebrate on another day entirely. This solution allows you keep the holiday spirit alive a bit longer. Being the divorced mother of two, I know this firsthand. For example, my children spent Thanksgiving with their dad and his side of the family this year. The following day they had a second Thanksgiving with me and our family friends. They were happy to be able to spend time with each of us and didn’t mind having pumpkin pie two days in a row.
Let them come to you
Bring the festivities home. This option will save you from lengthy car trips from house to house, whiny children (Mom, are we there yet?) and the stress of packing. Don’t worry if Aunt Jenny isn’t speaking to Aunt Hilda, just extend the invitations and let the chips fall where they may.
If the holiday head count expands beyond what your house can hold, consider hosting two smaller, more intimate events. I have a friend who has one side of the family over Christmas Eve and the other over for Christmas day brunch. She claims keeping the families segregated lessens tensions, keeps things manageable and cuts down by one the number of migraines she gets per year.
If you’re feeling strapped, as many of us do this time of year, have everyone pitch in and bring a dish and a bottle of holiday cheer. Toast to how much you saved on gas and airfare.
When in doubt, just bow out
If all else fails and the pressure from loved ones is driving you to say “Bah humbug,” think about getting out of the rat race and having a quiet holiday at home with your immediate family. Throw a log on the fire, crank up the carols, break out the board games and let the good times roll. After all, ’tis the season of giving. Make sure you give yourself a break.