The festive season is a time for joy and family, but for some people it brings a fair amount of stress too. Relationship coach Shelley Lewin, and Savannah Steinberg, personal mastery specialist, offer solutions for holiday problems.
Keeping up with the Joneses
‘My husband and I are spendaholics. We always overspend during the Christmas holidays – from expensive gifting for family and friends to buying unnecessary things for the house. We don’t think twice before swiping our credit cards, but end up struggling in January.’
‘The festive season is associated with spending and gifting, which does impact on your decision-making. Brands go out of their way to convince us to spend money, and tied to this is the “happiness effect” shopping has on our brains. However, if your spending habits are so severe they leave you broke, there could be underlying issues for the overspending. Are you trying to overcompensate for something? Is there a hole you’re trying to fill with material things? You need to do some deep introspection or even seek therapy as a couple, in order to find the root of the problem. ‘Secondly, you need to define what success means for you as a couple, so you aren’t living up to society’s definition. This leads to putting on an appearance of “having made it in life”, and comparing yourselves to others. Perhaps all the material things do bring happiness, but if the cost results in financial strain and stress, is it really worth it? ‘Another aspect that can keep this dangerous pattern going is reputation, and worrying about what people might think if you had to suddenly stop this lavish lifestyle. Sometimes fear of judgement prevents us from facing reality. Maybe this can be a turning point in your lives where you realise all the things you ever longed to achieve, for example paying off your bond or increasing your monthly contribution to your retirement fund, are hindered by this vicious circle of instant gratification.’
‘Empty nest’ Christmas
‘Our youngest was married this year and moved overseas. His sister and her family live abroad too. For the first time, my husband and I will be spending Christmas alone, and we’re feeling anxious. What can we do to ease the “empty nest syndrome” a little?’
‘Anxiety is a valid response to your first Christmas without the children. For the last 20-30 years you’ve established family traditions for this time of year. However, it’s the end of an era and anxiety is a consequence of the change that’s taking place. The secret to change is to focus not on fighting the old, but on building the new. You have an opportunity to create something else that excites and inspires the two of you. A new ritual might include something
that connects you more deeply with each other – for example, something you’ve always wanted but never had the time or resources for. If you want to maintain the spirit of family time, invite extended family or friends over, or fellow “empty nesters”. Cast your mind back to before you had children for clues about how to create a happy Christmas for this year and the years to come.’
The dreadful mother-in-law
‘I dread Christmas because every year we spend it at my mother-in-law’s. She’s critical about everything I do, even when I try helping her with chores. She’s controlling and wants to dictate everything, from how the food should be prepared to how the kids can and cannot play. This year we’ll be hosting the family in our home where I want to have the freedom to do things my way. How can I prevent her from bullying me, in an amicable way and without causing animosity?’
‘Dreading Christmas is an awful way to spend this special time of year. I imagine you’ve been digging deep to
survive this in the past and really want to have a more uplifting experience this year. It appears you and your
mother-in-law have very different ideas about what a “Happy Christmas” should look like. Her controlling character is probably just her way of trying to create a good Christmas, and her perception of that might be very different from yours.
‘As crazy as it sounds, she may not even see herself as a bully, but rather as an assertive or passionate person.
The most ideal way to achieve an amicable and positive experience is to collaborate and work together. As long
as your interaction remains a power struggle, it’ll remain tense, and you’ll have many more miserable Christmas
‘Although you’re probably yearning to be in charge for once, this is your chance to demonstrate to her the way you would like to be treated: with grace, respect and kindness. For example, leading up to the day, find out what’s really important to her about Christmas, and do your best to include her ideas in the menu or the planned activities for the day. This will show her how a gracious and considerate hostess should behave. If an amicable Christmas and no
animosity is what you desire, the goal should be to rather lead by example, and not to get even.’
First Christmas as a step-parent
I got divorced a few years ago and have been seeing someone for a few months. My partner and I will be spending Christmas with his children, which they’re not too chuffed about. I’ve met them a few times, but we’ve never spent a family holiday together. I’m worried about how the day will unfold. How can I make sure they won’t feel like I’m trying to replace their mom?’
A divorce can have far-reaching ramifications, especially for kids. Sometimes they resist connecting with the new partner out of fear of betraying their parent, and any difficult behaviour could just be an indication of their inner struggles to adjust to the change, so don’t take things personally. Instead of focusing on trying to not make them feel
like you’re replacing their mom, rather make an effort to just connect with your partner and his family and have a great day. If your desire is to make it a memorable experience that leaves everyone feeling closer, just like you would with your own family, what would that entail? Check in with your partner and his kids about what they might need to feel comfortable. By showing them you care and that you’d like to share in this, you increase your chances of them warming up to you.’
Christmas on a budget
‘We’ve had a really tough year. My husband was retrenched, we’ve been surviving on one salary and our relationship has taken strain. How do we make sure it’s not all doom and gloom, and give the kids a happy Christmas, despite the financial and emotional troubles?’
‘It’s heartbreaking as a parent not being able to afford desired things. On the bright side, it can serve as a good reminder that Christmas can still be as joyful without material goods. Most of the time, all children want is for the day
to be special and memorable, and there are ways to go about that without it costing a lot of money. Firstly, it might be worthwhile to manage expectations by hinting to the kids that this year you’ve decided not to make Christmas about presents. You’ve decided to rather spend the money on a family experience that’s fun for everyone (within a limited budget).
Get the kids involved by asking them to come up with their best ideas for a fun day together. Everyone can put suggestions into a hat and choose one that gets the most votes. Never discount the imagination of children and the collective creativity of a group of people. When everyone is involved and included in making the final decision for “the best ever fun Christmas day”, it might be the beginning of a new family ritual.’
COMPILED BY NOLWAZI DHLAMINI PHOTOS: FOTOLIA.COM