Merry Imperfect Christmas: Anna Mathur on embracing a ‘real’ Christmas.
Anna Mathur, Experienced psychotherapist, mental health coach and mother, gives her advice on how to embrace a real imperfect Christmas.
The Christmas countdown seems to start earlier each year. No sooner have the softening pumpkins been kicked to the curb, than advent calendars line the shelves! I could never buy one that early. It would be devoured during a stressful November, Friday afternoon, hidden from my kids behind the sofa.
One of the most difficult things about this season is the pressure! Pressure to have the smiling photographs, the plump well-cooked turkey. The pressure to laugh, to host, to enjoy, to not bicker your way through ‘special family time’.
We can look at images of the nativity with little baby Jesus adorning Christmas cards, and choose forget the smell of the stable, the wailing, the claustrophobia, the mooing, the baby vomit and the lack of pampers! We bypass the mess and hero the untrue perfect image.
The rest of the year passes in a human muddle of ‘getting stuff done’, with more acceptance of bumps in the road, family dramas, and constant curve balls. But as soon as the festive season sweeps around, something gets swept under the proverbial tinsel flecked carpet; The openness that Christmas can be tough, tense, lonely, stressful, anxiety filled, messy. A cultural perfectionism glides in along with the early advent calendars.
We all have a dark side, a tricky bit, a part we don’t like people to see. We all have the behind-closed-doors of family life that we’d rather wasn’t made public. That drawer in the kitchen where everything gets shoved. The part that we put away as the doorbell rings. I remember so many times during my rough PND days of last Christmas, urgently swiping tell-tale mascara trails from my cheeks, and the quick application of lipstick as I walked to the door to welcome visitors. My smile was a vastly untruthful portrayal of how I felt inside. If Christmas is all about humanity, why have we tidied away the humanness?
The pressure is on to invite people behind the doors, but not behind the scenes.
Perfectionism believes that if we are good enough, our house looks tidy enough, our children appear well-behaved enough, nobody will know the hidden parts, the human parts. Everyone will think we are happy. Coping. Winning. The standards go up, because we’re drawn in by the supposed perfection of other people’s lives. We end up falling for our own tricks.
Maybe it’s time we learnt to accept the messy side of Christmas as much as the presentable bit. It’s a little more openness about the rougher edges that enables us to empathise, sympathise and meet with others on a deeper level. Maybe if I’d allowed myself to be my messy self with my relatives last Christmas, it wouldn’t have been so exhausting. It’s the honesty and sharing of human experience that enriches relationship. And isn’t that what Christmas is meant to be about?
Question your should. ‘I should do a homemade Christmas feast every year’,‘We should show our faces at every social event’ – Why? ‘Should’s often tell us what we are doing out of duty rather than desire. The more you indulge your ‘should’s, the more drained you will be. I’m not saying to rebel against every Christmas tradition, just inviting you to consider which one’s you invest in, and where you may conserve your energies for just ‘being’ family in it’s fullness.
Lower the expectations a little where you can, reduce the pressure off yourself, and have a Jolly Imperfect Christmas.
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