Every major holiday like Thanksgiving and Christmas, my body’s impulse is to shut down, disconnect, and cut out all pressure. My Mom slaved to create picture-perfect holidays. Most of it was magical and I am very grateful for all she did. The conflicting part for me was witnessing her killing herself to make it perfect. Sure she tried to get her six kids to help but most of it came in the form of yelling and anger as she was at her wit’s end. I just wanted to avoid her at all costs which of course stressed her out even more. It just didn’t make sense to me why she was doing all this work and seemed miserable doing it. I know now, she was wanting to give what she never had and once she earned that role, she didn’t know how to let go and set boundaries to preserve her well-being. To me, the holidays became a stress trap and really ruined the value of the holiday.
All these conflicting feelings intensified when I was 10 years old and my family of eight gathered for Christmas morning for the what turned out to be the last time celebrating all together. I will never forget it… As usual, my Mom went overboard buying Christmas gifts – shopping was her main coping skill. My Dad slouched on our lazy-boy chair, his hands nervously covering his mouth as he watched the charades. You could feel him groan as my siblings feigned enjoyment opening the overwhelming amount of gifts they could have gone with out. My Mom was ecstatic and basking in what she had given. The conflicting emotions and tension in the room consumed me. My parents separated shortly after this Christmas and there are many deep layers wrapped in this memory.
My body remembers all these layers and so every major holiday, I freeze. No tradition or holiday demand is worth sacrificing my well-being. I happened to marry a man who loves to cook lavish meals and have big parties. He truly does enjoy the process of providing a good time. He has reasonable boundaries and doesn’t go overboard yet I still get triggered. My triggered reaction of shutting down, avoiding extravagance, wanting to do less and make things simpler ends up triggering his own negative reaction related to a whole other dynamic with regards to his upbringing.
Nobody is right or wrong here, it’s just is what it is. We have had to find ways to process our feelings and each other’s reactions as well as discover ways to honor each other’s experiences and needs. 2017 was our 21st holiday season together and it is definitely getting easier yet we are still learning and growing together. And there were many seasons we just grinned and beared it. We have two kids who naturally love holidays so we have done our best to create a few simple rituals that represent the true essence of each holiday as well as keep coming up with new ones. This year, we cut down our first real Christmas tree.
Give of yourself that brings the best out of you and create a holiday that meets your family’s unique needs. Every moment is a gift and you have the power to choose to open each moment with grace, love, gratitude and curiosity. How we feel often matters more than how things look. Be (a) present ❤