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Surviving the silly season

Christine Spicer

Tis the season to spend more time with loved ones but it can get a little ridiculous out there…

I don’t know about you but I used to put a lot of expectations on myself (and everyone else) during the Christmas period. I thought that every year I needed a photo of my kids with Santa (‘Why won’t you go and sit on a strangers knee and smile?!’) and that everyone should get along (even if they didn’t the other 364 days a year) — you know exactly like it is on TV.

In fact, I used to think that life was a bit like Friends… Remember when Rachel was pregnant and sort of a single parent? I was surprised when my life as a single parent wasn’t the same! I’m learning over time, life isn’t like that and Christmas (sort of like weddings) can sometimes bring out the not so nice side in people.

From blended families to kids sharing Christmas between houses, separated parents and balancing different relatives and friends wanting to spend time with you and the children to having ill loved ones or grieving from a loss, Christmas can compound usual stresses and magnify them, sometimes to extreme levels. Add this to holiday alcohol consumption (guilty), disruptions to your usual routine, minimal (if any) exercise and financial concerns, and before you know this joyous season is not quite so jolly.

So here are my six tips to help get you through December and arrive in 2017 completely intact.

Lower your expectations

Our hopes, dreams and wishes about life and what our family should ideally be like are very different from reality. Family harmony is virtually impossible to achieve in extended families. Having realistic expectations will lead to less disappointment. There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ family. We never know what goes on in other people’s homes, no matter what it seems what we’re told or what we see on social media.

I know that behind most of the family photos I have in my home is stress from trying to get the ‘perfect’ photo. Phrases of ‘just smile’, ‘sit still’, ‘look at the camera’, ‘stop doing a silly face’ or my mum’s favourite saying ‘act natural’ are all behind the ‘perfect’ looking photo. What I see when I look at those photos are my high-stress levels and I feel a sadness that I wasn’t able to enjoy the moment, despite what the photo portrays. So lower those expectations, and you’ll be happier for it.

Know your limits and listen to your emotions

If you need time out, take it. If this means handing your baby over to someone or putting it somewhere safe while you soak up the sun in the backyard or get some quiet time in the bathroom, then do it. For older kids it might mean turning on the TV, having a video game on hand or opening the back door and throwing chocolates to be found before they melt. Getting a few moments of quiet could be all you need to reset your emotions.

Gifts

Everyone does their Christmas gifts differently, and despite how we might celebrate, we don’t always have the money to buy everything we would like. Remove the pressure and instead suggest one of the below ideas to the family.

Secret Santa with a price limit can be a great way to share the love. Search the internet for the different options. If someone asks you what you would like, tell them. Better than having something taking up room in the cupboard on Boxing Day or secretly giving it away to charity.

Homemade gifts can be great and, let’s face it, a little on trend this year. Pinterest is my go-to for inspiration – fudge, biscuits, candles, hampers, Christmas terrariums (I kid you not), you won’t be short on ideas. I’m making personalised key rings with a metal stamp for the staff and volunteers at PANDSI and the kids’ teachers this year. If you’d like a recipe, why not try HerCanberra’s Events Coordinator Belinda’s Spiced Nuts or Raspberry and Lemon Cordial?

Vouchers for favours and odd-jobs like babysitting, car washing, ironing, lawn mowing and cleaning are priceless. Especially for families that might not always have the time to get these things done but don’t necessarily want to ask for help either. If you really can’t find the inspiration, store cards are ok.

Fairtrade gifts are sure to make someone feel warm and fuzzy. Buying the gift of a goat, water or even a toilet in a developing country is a thoughtful gift that considers both the receiver and the community you’re supporting.

Frames can be a great way to capture a treasured moment. You’re not limited to a photo either. Consider a beautiful tea-towel, card or postcard or a painting your child has done. Low cost, but having something that fits in with the person’s house/colour scheme shows you have put thought and effort into their gift. This is what really matters.

Share the load

If you are hosting an event this season, consider asking guests to ‘bring a plate’ or dedicate a particular course for guests to prepare. Nibbles, salads, mains, desserts…and you’re done. If everyone is coming over, don’t worry about the state of your house. They are there to see you. There is nothing I like more than walking into someone’s home and it’s messy, it makes me feel so much better about my own and makes me feel more at ease immediately.

Ask for help and take it when offered

When you ask someone if you can help them, you’re doing it out of love. Sure, it’s sometimes out of duty, but you wouldn’t be offering if there wasn’t good intent behind it. If someone offers, accept it. If no one offers, then ask for it. Lean on friends and family; let others help make life easier on you.

This is now the time to say, if at any stage things get too much then make asking for help your priority. If you get to the point where you’re thinking you’re experiencing a personal crisis, contact Lifeline 24/7 on 13 11 14.

Be Elsa

LET IT GO. Easier said than done, I know. You can’t change people’s attitudes, actions or what people say. You can change your reaction to them (as hard as it is). Pick your battles and as Michelle Obama says, “When they go low, we go high.”

Lastly, a huge thanks to everyone that took part in the mini PANDSI Cake Off: Canberra style during PNDA Awareness Week. Canberra did not disappoint with their imagination and cake skills with some amazing representations of Canberra. Join the PANDSI Cake Off group on Facebook to view the photos – they were amazing.

PANDSI is keeping the Go Fund Me account open so those hoping to have a cake in PANDSI Cake Off, 13 May 2017 can share their practices with friends/family/colleagues and raise funds through donations for slices of cake.

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Christine Spicer

Christine Spicer is the President of PANDSI, mother of two and step-mum to more. Her volunteer role at PANDSI had led her to organising the PANDSI Cake-Off and working hard to reduce the stigma around perinatal depression and anxiety. She lives with her husband and kids in Weston Creek.

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