Winter. . . holiday. . . stress relief

Guest writer, Emory Luce Baldwin, recently conducted a parent workshop, You're Not my Friend Anymore! at The Cooperative School. She is a certified parent educator and marriage and family therapist in the Washington, DC area. She shares her thoughts on the upcoming holiday season with us here... The winter holiday season can be a stressful time for parents--in part because memories of childhood celebrations often color the experience for us, even though we are now adults. For some people, it is inspiring to want to reproduce similar happy holidays for our own children. For others, it is vital to create a celebration for our current family that is completely different from our own memories of chaos, shame or trauma.

Either way, it is useful to be aware of what associations come up for you about the holidays. What memories do you want to relive, or avoid, every year? What hopes are reinvigorated, and possibly disappointed, year after year? What experiences are you extra sensitive to, not because of what is happening in the present, but because they remind you of when you were a child?

I once had a client who wondered why she was increasingly grouchy during the holidays, even though she longed to make her family's celebration a happy one like the ones she remembered from her own childhood. Her Christmas memories were all very pleasant--big family gatherings, her mother's homemade cookies, and wonderful presents that surprised and delighted her. Everything seemed to happen by magic, and now she wanted to repeat the same magic for her children.

To her surprise, though, she found it was utterly exhausting to be the one who created all of the family holiday magic. The more she tried to make it wonderful, the more disappointed she felt. (Her husband was supportive, but neutral about the need for a delightful holiday experience. His own memories of childhood Christmases were all decidedly low-key and non-magical.)

By the afternoon of Christmas day, she was usually worn out and despondent. Each year, she felt as if she had tried and failed again to recreate the kind of happy Christmas experience she had when she was a little girl.

What we discovered, however, was that she was comparing her present holiday experiences with an idyllic childhood memory that was impossible to recreate. There was no way that she could experience being a child again, dazzled and delighted by a celebration created by the adults in her family. Rather than continuing to be disappointed by her adult experiences during the holidays, my client chose to treasure her childhood memories as happy ones, but impossible to reproduce. Freeing herself from the comparison, made it possible for her to enjoy her family celebration with less frustration and disappointment.