I love Christmas. I always used to go to great lengths to make it beautiful, to get everyone one special gift to be kind, to not be rude to shop assistants and not to fight in carparks! To embody the spirit of the season – peace, love and kindness.
Ok, maybe I wasn’t 100% successful, but I did pretty well.
The last few years, I’ve taken on far too much. It has taken two days to recover from Christmas. It has been painful, exhausting and entirely not worth what I gave. Largely because my family do not understand, and do not consider that my health has changed radically. They care only for what THEY want, and have no consideration of either what I want, or even more importantly, what I need.
My family celebrate on Christmas Eve, as is the German tradition. I have NEVER missed a single year. Every year it is the same. Every year we all bow to what my mother wants. And honestly? After 47 Christmases, I’m really tired of doing it her way.
Christmas Even used to involve arriving at 5pm. Food still being cooked. Christmas album playing. Everyone female pitches into help with dinner. Small talk. Perfectly pleasant stuff. Dinner around 7 or 8pm. After dinner drink. Christmas presents opened. More small talk. Head home around 11 or 12.
This was fine when I was teenaged and in my early 20s. Even though Christmas Eve is a party night here, anyone young goes out! I missed out on the Christmas Eve fun with my friends, and stayed home with my family.
When I had kids, however, it changed. It got more fun, because kids and Christmas! But my mother was rigid. Despite me asking if we could change things up a little so my very young kids didn’t have to stay up until midnight, she refused.
Or rather, she very passive-agressively agreed, but then made dinner run SO late that we still didn’t get home until midneight.
Christmas Day was always spent with my ex-husbands side of the family and the kids would be exhausted and cranky and it wasn’t fair on them, on my husband and I, or on my inlaws.
When I explained that to my mother, she took it personally, and took it to mean I was prioritising the other side of the family’s Christmas over her needs. And she got angry and upset and created such fuss, that I dropped it.
A few years I had Christmas at MY house. I ran it like clockwork and had all the formalities over with by 8:30pm, so that my young kids could go to bed, and so that people could stay and have a drink, or they could go home if they so chose. Because everyone has a big day on Christmas Day, Its only considerate! And its not offensive if people don’t want to stay on and talk all night.
Those Christmases were better, but they were still run and done exactly as my mother chose. What SHE wanted.
Honestly? All I ever wanted was to spend Christmas Eve with my little family. I wanted to start a Christmas tradition with MY kids and my husband. I don’t think that’s a big ask. But no, because my mother creates such a fuss and would disown me and never speak to me again, we had to do Christmas every single year.
I never missed ONE Christmas. I’m 48 years old. My kids are now grown up. I will never have the Christmas I want. I have NO family tradition with my kids.
I don’t know anyone who has spent every Christmas with their parents. Most people start doing their own thing when they have kids of their own, and some years they include their parents in that.
Over the years it has gotten so that I dread Christmas Eve. Christmas Day my kids always go to the other side of the family still, and I spend Christmas Day in pain and exhausted from having to deal with Christmas Eve celebrations the night before. Sometimes on Boxing Day I can go out or celebrate, mostly I’m still feeling awful.
Two years ago I had Christmas at my house, trying to take control again, and by having at my house, run the evening with an early end. So that I could go to bed, people could stay and have a drink if they so chose, but I could rest. Everyone, except my mother, was well aware of this plan. Everyone agreed, and understood. I realised I wasn’t the only one who felt this way about Christmas, and in fact ALL of us were tired of it, and had been doing it my mother’s way for many years, just to please her, or rather to avoid her wrath.
My sister has missed a few Christmases. She told me years ago she just wanted to spend a Christmas with her husband. And later, with her husband and child. She was able to do that a couple of times. But she had to move to another country to do it! And still, she often flew home for Christmas, again, just to avoid being excommunicated from the family, and my mother’s ire.
So two years ago, at my house, I was prepped. It’s not that hard to run Christmas. We had the ‘full’ family. Myself and my kids. My sister and her child. My defacto sister, my sister’s best friend who spent a lot of time at our house growing up, so is part of the family, and her young son. Her partner. And my parents. Ten people.
I set the table the day before. I planned the menu, pre-cooked what I could pre-cook. And everyone chose or was assigned a dish to bring.
Christmas was set to arrive at 4pm for pre-dinner drinks. Dinner was to be on the table at 6pm. Presents would be opened at 7:30pm. By 8:30pm, the formalities over, everyone would be free to stay and have a drink and kick on. Or go home. The two young kids were seven years old that year. My sister and defacto-sis were aware of ‘the plan’ and happy with that, given that they had young kids and big plans for Christmas Day also.
My mother was aware of the time schedule for dinner, but not aware of the reason for that. No one wanted to upset her, because she she’s upset, she’s vengeful, nasty, flies into a rage, but most of all, sends everyone on a guilt trip. Its truly unpleasant, and she rules with an iron fist.
But still. It was our solution, all of us mothers with our own families. It was good for the kids and it was good for my health to get to bed early. My mother grumbled a little, I think she realised on some level what we were doing. But she didn’t fight.
The night arrived. Everyone except my mother arrived between 4 and 5pm as planned. We prepped all our dishes. We had a glass of champagne. And we waited.
I called her at 5:30pm, when she was an hour and a half late, and she said she was nearly done, on her way. She finally arrived at 6:30pm, half an hour after the time that she knew dinner was set to be on the table.
She arrived with her dish uncooked. The dish that she’d been assigned takes about an hour and 20 minutes to cook.
Everyone was horrified. My defacto-sis suggested we have dinner without that dish. But no, the dish is a family tradition. That couldn’t be done.
We just had to start cooking. Everything else was ready to go, so we had to either keep it warm for and hour and a half, or reheat it later.
Everyone was angry. Simmering under the surface, but determined not to make a scene and not ruin Christmas.
But this is how my mother got what she wanted. She wasn’t happy with an earlier schedule, she wanted the night to run late. The TRADITION is to have presents after 9pm and still be celebrating late into the night. And that’s what SHE wanted, so she controlled it by arriving late, and forcing the whole night to run late.
Passive-aggressive. Controlling. Selfish.
So dinner was on the table at 8pm. I was exhausted and no longer hungry. We all tried to remain cheerful, for Christmas’ sake. No one was happy, but we got over it. Made the best of it.
Unfortunately I was physically exhausted. I rushed the present opening, and at 9pm I excused myself. I felt like I was going to pass out. Throw up. Full body meltdown.
I lay on my bed for just a minute and I crashed. I call them slow motion pass outs. I don’tfaint dead away, I feel sick, like lead, dizzy, but I have time to get to abed, or sit down on the ground. And then I fall deeply asleep, or pass out. I don’t know which.
I think my sister understood what had happened. Other people just assumed I had had too much wine. I’d barely had any. I didn’t trust myself to have wine.
My mother was completely unaware that this was her fault. She must have been aware that she hijacked and forced the evening to go her way. But she’ll never acknowledge that. That’s who she is. It was a horrible Christmas, after which I swore that I was done. Never again! It wasn’t fair on me, on the kids, on anyone.
Fast forward to the following year. I relented because my sister wasn’t cominghome and it was just myself, my parents and my two kids. I told them I wasn’t well enough to do dinner, so we had a late lunch at 2pm. I headed home at 5:30pm or so. I crashed, but Iwasn’t pushed to exhaustion. That WAS my entire Christmas Eve, however. No time with my kids. I was lucky, however, and the inlaws Christmas had been moved to Boxing Day. So I had some time on Christmas Day with my kids. My ex came over for a few hours and joined us. It was a lovely day. I was still recovering from the day before, but it was doable.
My kids were happy. The first Christmas we’d ever had a few hours to ourselves, to just hang out as a family.
My kids are now 17 (very soon 18) and 16. The Chicklet has a job and a social life ofher own. This Christmas Eve, I was determined to do lunch. I’m done with the passive-aggressive dinners and being wiped out for two days afterwards.
I talked to my mother and asked if she was OK with doing lunch this year. She said “2pm is the best I can do.”
I told her that I really wanted to be leaving at 3pm, so that I could go home and rest. Starting at 2pm would mean me leaving at 5 or 6pm and that effectively being my day over.
She said she couldn’t do two roasts by midday.
I suggested that I do one roast, and she par-cook the roast the day before, just finish it in the oven on Christmas Eve. She said that was horrible and wouldn’t taste as good. I said I was happy to do all the meat and bring it. I am happy to bring all the food, if she likes. There are only five of us, two roasts is unnecessary. My defacto-sis might be coming, but she too, can only come if its lunch, as she needs to drive down to the coast (2.5 hour drive) so that her son can be with his father on Christmas day. We all have high demands at this time of year! But for me, it is purely that I do not want to spend two days recovering from Christmas Eve dinner.
She said she’s not as young as she used to be, and she can’t get lunch together. And no, she did not want me to bring the food. She asked me why I can’t do 2pm. I told her again, I will be exhausted and that will be my entire day if we start at 2pm. Then she switched into guilt trip mode, telling me that she’d get up at 6am to make ME happy. That her back was very bad and she gets no sleep, but she’ll manage. She’ll find a way. Just to make ME happy.
I’ve had years of guilt trips. Honestly, I’ve had enough. I don’t treat people that way. It has always worked great, I have too much empathy, and don’t want to upset people, so I am easily manipulated. But not this year. I’m not well enough.
I told her I didn’t believe that she needed to get up at 6am. I’d offered plenty of solutions, options, how to make it an easy day for all of us, to please all of us. She snarled at me that I was selfish and that it was ‘all about me’
Frustrated, after a conversation that had been circling for 20 minutes, with each of us just stating what we wanted, I said my health simply willnot take it. If I leave at 6pm, I will be done for the day. I would like to dolunch, and then go home and rest, and have two hours with my own kids in the evening, to spend some time with them.
And then she lost it. “Oh so THAT’s what this is about!” she shrieks at me.
I calmly reminded her that I have spent EVERY Christmas ofmy life with her, not only that, it has run the way she wants, every single year. I have never had a Christmas the way I would like it. And now I won’t budge because my health is just not good enough to keep indulging her wishes.
She snapped at me that I have Christmas Day to spend with my kids.
I reminded her that they spend Christmas day with their in-laws, and they have done since they were born. It has always been that day, we do NOT have Christmas day to ourselves either. So no, I don’t have Christmas Day, never have had.
She snapped that she didn’t know that. Which is just a flat out lie.
I said I’m sorry you’re upset, but I don’t see what is wrong with doing lunch instead of dinner.
She screamed “well, soon I won’t be here anymore and you don’t have to worry”
And hung up.
That’s how she rolls. Guilt trips, emotional blackmail ad manipulation. My entire life. She treats everyone that way, and she isentirely selfish. She never considers anyone else’s needs or wants, it’s alwaysabout her. She’s always been a ‘my pain is worse than your pain’ person. Or, alternatively, ‘I’m just so strong that I will just find a way’. She’s either the worst off, or the best, depending on what the point of the conversation is. And she uses guilt to get her way. And she always gets her way.
And I’m sick of it. Now I’m supposed to call her back and smoothe it over, like I always do. Last time there was a fight like this, she carried on and told me she’d cut me out of her will, that I was no longer a member of the family, on and on and on. I’m just not going to listen to it.
My sister and my defacto-sis both agree that I’m not asking for much. Neither one of them is going to step in, however. They’ll get showered with the same bullshit. Who needs it?
My defacto-sis feels I should skype her, restate my case, not back down, but apologise in some way.
I always do that. I always fix things. I always back down and give in, at my own expense. The last 18 months have shown me where my passive, please everyone else, behaviour has gotten me. I’m tired. My parents expect far too much, they always have. They have very European ideals which are completely out of step with contemporary Australianvalues. I have told them before, they raised an independent, Australian kid. I’m a product of my upbringing.
I’m not going to back down. Im not going to smoothe things over and make peace. I am not going to apologise for wanting ONE Christmas, two hours, to spend with my kids. I wasn’t even saying I wasn’t going to come to their Christmas. Just that I wanted to do lunch.
As it is, the Chicklet has a life of her own. She has cancelled her work shift (double time) on Christmas Eve, for her grandmother. Now she’s PISSED because she could have worked.
And her best friend gets her ‘P’s (driver’s licence) on Christmas Eve. So they plan to go out for a drive to look at Christmas lights after dark. It won’t be dark until 9pm, so I’m hoping she’s not going to go hang with her friends at 6pm. But she might. If that’s how she wants to spend Christmas Eve, that’s OK. We have no family tradition, because its always been about my mother. Our little family has no special Christmas traditions, nothing unique to us. Most families do. And that’s because I’ve never been able to have Christmas with my kids.
BUT I am NOT going to be my mother and force her to spend the evening with ME. SHE, and Gamerboy, are going to be free to celebrate Christmas however and with whoever they choose. Like normal people!