A new survey has picked up on something I identified long ago – and is the subject of my book, published last year – that Christmas is a hugely stressful time for families, especially for women, and not the merry, jolly time it’s made out to be.
According to the survey of 3,000 women by the mail order catalogue Kaleidoscope, the average mother spends 13 whole days preparing for Christmas, even though the average festive dinner lasts little more than two hours. Unsurprising, then, that one in five of participants say they hate Yuletide.
Christmas is billed as a time of tinsel, toys and togetherness. It’s when families cosy up in front of a roaring log fire, sing carols around the tree and feast on mountains of beautifully cooked and impeccably presented food.
Except that, for many people, it’s simply not like that. Christmas is the number one flashpoint for divorce – and it’s not hard to see why. Men and women have completely different expectations of Christmas; for a woman it means double if not triple the amount of work she has to do, while for men it means the chance to put their feet up and relax after a busy 12 months at the office.
I can remember when the Festive Season spanned only two days – Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Then it was back to work. Over the years, the festival has been extended so that now it takes up nearly two weeks. I simply don’t think we’re meant to be at home with our spouses for 14 days in the middle of winter, sitting around eating and drinking too much, enduring visits from difficult relatives and feeling under pressure to ‘have a good time’. It’s no wonder many marriages hit the buffers at Christmas.
If your relationship is teetering on the brink, it is crucial to plan Christmas carefully to avoid the obvious pitfalls that could trigger a New Year divorce. When I say plan, I mean meticulously plan – from the food right down to the games you and the family are going to play.
For all you women, make sure your husband is involved and has a role to play, so that the work isn’t piled on your shoulders alone. If he can’t cook, then maybe he can prepare the vegetables, lay the table or do the washing up.
Don’t feel you have to emulate Gordon Ramsay’s idea of a Christmas dinner: if you work full-time, it’s madness to put yourself through the stress of cooking up a succession of elaborate meals. The shops are groaning with ready-prepared fare that tastes almost as good as the real thing – buy that instead.
Make sure you get some ‘me’ time, no matter how many visitors you have milling about: even if you just disappear into your bedroom for an hour and read a book. If you have people staying, pop out one night with your husband for a quiet drink.
If present-buying is a major source of stress, take the easy way out and buy everyone a book or music token. Or buy them nothing at all and instead make a donation to charity.
Devise activities to keep the family occupied. Play a different board game each day; draw up a list of jobs-around-the-house for hubby to get stuck into; organise a series of walks or bike rides and don’t let the weather put you off.
If you have children, focus on them rather than trying to please the adults, because that’s really what Christmas is all about. On the other hand, resist the temptation to get kids over-excited as this will only add to the burden of expectation.
If Christmas means being burdened with difficult relatives, structuring the days is even more important. Make sure guests help out with chores and even bring food with them. But if having extended family to stay is guaranteed to ruin any chance of fun, hold a ‘tinsel and turkey’ weekend for them in mid-December instead.
So, with careful forward planning and the early acknowledgement of problems that could rear their heads, it’s possible not only to avoid breaking up with your spouse but to have a very happy Christmas too.
* * My book, How NOT to Get Divorced After Christmas, is available free of charge. Please phone 0121 248 4001 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.