I thought that once I grew up, Christmas would stop being a battle ground and I could begin to enjoy the Festive Season. It’s after all the Season to be Jolly.
Whilst the media was (and still is) busy promoting happiness, togetherness, kindness, giving and receiving, and families coming together, I was attempting to juggle separated parents (who hated each other) and a mother-in-law who hated foreigners.
I couldn’t do anything about my heritage – I’m Portuguese from Africa! I grew up walking around bare-feet, picking mangos, avocados, bananas and guavas straight from the tree, and eating very large piri-piri prawns… amongst other Mediterranean style food. Christmas was at the height of summer and the only snow I saw was in greeting cards.
Despite this idillic setting, I was trapped in my parents point scoring wars, with me as the weapon of their choice. As a child I was bundled from one to the other with no apparent reason other than one of them had won a court hearing at that point. In the months leading up to Christmas the controlling manipulative and at times coercive behaviour intensified. By the time the big day came I was weighted with guilt for being alive.
My parents war continued into my adulthood. I tried dividing up the Festive time between them and my mother-in-law, but it was never right or enough. The same controlling manipulative behaviour continued, with me in the middle trying to keep everyone happy.
I hated Christmas until the day I stopped trying to please everyone
Once I had children of my own, I was determined they wouldn’t have the same experience. I became stronger at establishing clear boundaries. I learned that I couldn’t change my parents’ behaviour but I could change how I reacted to them. I made it clear what I was no longer willing to accept. It wasn’t always easy… but eventually it paid off.
Christmas became a time of joy and celebration, even when money was tight. It’s amazing how much fun you can have on a very tight budget. Now that my sons are grown men with a family of their own, sometimes they spend it with their partner’s family, other times I’m included. Whatever decision they make, I’m happy to support them.
This year they’re all coming to us. I’m hosting 10 on Christmas Day. Most of the food is prepared and in the freezer. We have games organised. I’ve been learning a few festive jingles in my piano lessons for a family ‘concert’ (it won’t be like the now famous Marsh Family) but it will be a lot of fun – I love Christmas with my family of choice.
How do you experience this time of year? Are you caught up in family feuds or people pleasing?
If you want some help with establishing clear boundaries, give me a call on 0121 745 9044 to book an appointment.