Help me Steve! The kids, my husband, getting the house ready, the cooking, the shopping plus full-time work – I’ve got everything to do for Christmas, I’m already running around like a mad thing and time’s fast running out! Plus my husband’s parents are coming over for the first time and I don’t get on with his Mum at all. So Christmas Day itself is going to be a huge amount of work and while I’ll probably enjoy it I know I’ll get stressed out. What can I do to make it more magical and less stressful?” – Vicky in London
This is an email I received the other day that’s typical of many I receive at this time of year, and my own Christmas is promising to be an interesting one.
My recently-out gay nephew is bringing his Eastern European partner to meet my family, including my bordering-on-homophobic, anti-immigrant father, and my sister’s ex-husband is coming along for the first time in 7 years, having split from his new partner who’s spending Christmas with their daughter.
It feels like I’m in an episode of Eastenders.
I’m sure that a lot of you will be sharing some seasonal anxiety too, so here are my tips for confidently handing a family Christmas.
1. Adjust your expectations.
If you expect everything to be perfect and to go like clockwork, you’re going to get stressed, angry and upset when that doesn’t happen – you’re setting yourself up for a big disappointment.
If you have unrealistic expectations make sure you shift them before things can get stressful.
Change your expectations so you expect the odd hiccup, and choose to laugh about them rather than stress about them – laughter goes a long way.
2. Go with the flow.
The tree doesn’t have to have every bauble hung perfectly, the roast potatoes don’t have to be like Gordon Ramsay’s and you don’t have to be the perfect host. Relax, step back and recognise what’s important about Christmas for you.
What is it that makes Christmas special and magical? I guarantee it’s nothing to do with how many cheeses are on the cheese board or whether dinner is half an hour late to the table. It’s about togetherness, warmth, laughter and lightness.
Give yourself a break, relax and enjoy the good stuff.
3. Deal with family issues later.
Remember that Christmas isn’t the best time to sort out all your problems with family and friends. Nobody wants to argue and fight at Christmas so try and deal with any family issues another time. Even find a good opportunity to tell key people that you can put your differences aside for a few days.
Also remember that you don’t have to spend every waking moment with family if you don’t want to. If you find yourself going mad, take a break, go for a walk or visit a friend, and don’t get over- exposed.
4. Do things in the right spirit.
What I’ve learned is that the best way of feeling fulfilled and magical at Christmas is to give without attachment to the outcome.
Yes, that sounds pretty cheesy (like something Mickey Rooney would say in a Disney Christmas family movie), but I promise you it’s true.
Some people might moan about their gifts and others may take their stresses out on you. There’s nothing you can do about those things but you can choose how to be and how you want to feel.
People would much rather spend time with you when you’re relaxed and generous of heart rather than seeing you wound up and stressed, so make a choice that puts you at your best and most generous of spirit.
Am I worried about my potentially challenging (and even comically disastrous) Christmas?
That’s simply because I know my family well enough to know that we can let our hair down and have fun, and that any personal issues people might have are nowhere near as important as the family relationships we value so much.
I can’t wait for Christmas.