Everyone tells you that Christmas with young children is the most magical time of your life: and they’re (mostly) right – it really is.
What fewer people are willing to tell you, however, is that, wonderful though it may be, Christmas – and the holidays in general – can also be one of those times when you most miss your old life.
It’s not that you want to go back to it.
It’s not that you don’t appreciate what you have now.
It’s just that, when you have children, everything changes: and things like Christmas and New Year… well, those are the things that change most of all. Some of the changes are good ones, obviously (OBVIOUSLY). Other changes, though, are the kind that see you back home early on Christmas day, knowing you’ve had a lovely time, but secretly wishing it could’ve lasted just a little bit longer – like it did back in the days when you didn’t have a cranky toddler in desperate need of some sleep.
People don’t tend to talk about this aspect of parenthood, of course, because they’re worried about seeming ungrateful, or just not positive enough. There’s huge pressure as a parent to be positive at all times: to never admit that your experience is anything less than utterly magical, and it’s that pressure, I think, that leaves some of us feeling like abject failures, and wondering why we’re not managing to have this picture-perfect parenting experience that everyone else seems to be having around us.
There’s huge pressure as a parent to be positive at all times: to never admit that your experience is anything less than utterly magical…
It’s not for the lack of trying, either.
I, for instance, started December feeling uncharacteristically excited about Christmas. We’d been surprised by how much Max seemed to understand about it all, and I guess I kind of bought into this idea everyone kept trying to sell me about how these early years would be just the best! thing! ever! People kept on telling me to enjoy every moment, and I tried my best to do just that. We put our tree up on December 1st, and I watched in despair as the image I’d had of us all laughing happily as we sipped hot chocolate and sang wholesome Christmas songs quickly gave way to one in which I spent the entire morning having to physically restrain a heartbroken toddler from jumping onto the half-finished tree (And also from jumping off the back of the sofa, which was his preferred way to spend this magical time…), while Terry angrily slung baubles onto branches, and not one single mug of hot chocolate was drunk. Possibly because we didn’t actually buy any. Whoops.
The rest of the holiday season was more or less the same.
Our Christmas Day, for instance, was lovely, but it was lovely in parts: or parts of it were lovely, rather. Some parts, on the other hand, were really quite difficult (These would be the parts when Max was tired and cranky, and nothing would placate him: the poor soul is teething and has a cold right now – as well as being, you know, two – so it wasn’t his fault, but, of course, that didn’t mean it wasn’t hard work dealing with the tantrums…), and most parts were honestly just no different from every other day of the year. By 8pm, Max was in bed, and Terry and I were on our own again … and, I mean, sure, we watched some festive TV and ate some Christmassy snacks, but I’d be lying if I said these things made our evening feel ‘magical’, like the ones everyone else seemed to be having, if social media is to be believed. Yes, we were making new traditions, just like everyone kept assuring us we would… but we were also missing out on some of the old ones – which is the problem with new traditions, really, isn’t it?
Then came New Year’s Eve.
Now, I’ve never enjoyed New Year. In fact, when we had Max, I was secretly quite glad that, for a few years at least, I’d have an excuse no one could argue with to just stay at home, and pretend it wasn’t happening.
I hadn’t considered social media, though… or that fact that, as I sat there, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram (Yes, I know I could just have avoided them, but what am I: a saint?), I’d be hit by this giant dose of FOMO: not because of the night itself, but from the way everyone seemed to be talking about it.
On Instagram, for instance, everyone had just had the best year of their lives, at the end of the best decade ever. On Facebook, meanwhile, people were busy doing victory laps, congratulating themselves on the awesome decades they’d managed to have, and typing Oscars speeches into the status box about how wonderful their lives were. Even the ones who hadn’t just had the best ten years of their lives were at least living their best lives NOW: posting photos of their ‘glow-up’ and talking about how much better things were for them as they approached the start of 2020.
It was impossible not to feel like I was missing out… because, just like Christmas day, my last decade was good in parts… but only partly good. Yes, we had a baby and bought a new house: we had some amazing holidays, and some truly wonderful times. We also, however, lost a parent and a pet: our family dealt with some really serious shit, so, along with the highest of highs, we also had some of the very lowest of lows to deal with, too. As grateful as I am for the good things that have happened, and that continue to happen, I don’t honestly feel I can describe it as the best decade ever: and I can’t possibly be the only one who feels like that.
The language of social media, however, is all about positivity and hyperbole. Things are never just good, they’re always THE BEST. Every day is magical, and, even when they’re not, we’re encouraged to find the magic in every day, and talk about that, rather than dwelling on the not-so-good stuff. There’s a lot of sense in that, obviously: I can see why people would want to focus only on the good things in life, but I also worry that, by ignoring all the rest, we set up impossibly high expectations, which most of us can’t possibly hope to meet. I worry that we’re creating a culture in which people are routinely shamed for having normal, human emotions, and encouraged to believe that if they’re not enjoying every single minute, then there’s something very wrong with them.
The language of social media, however, is all about positivity and hyperbole
Real life isn’t really like that, though. Real life has its highs and lows and its ups and downs: it’s rarely ever ALL good or ALL bad… and I think it’s important to be able to recognise that, even although it’s not really the ‘done’ thing these days – on the internet, at least. And that’s why, one of my New Year’s resolutions for this blog is to continue talking about the reality of life, and of parenting: to keep writing these posts, even although I worry about the comments they might generate (Too negative! Just be grateful! Children starving in Africa!), and to make this a space where people feel free to be honest about how they’re feeling, without fear of judgement or ridicule.
So, if you’ve ever felt that life would be easier if you could just be more like everyone else out there – or wondered why you’re not – then this blog is here to reassure you that, actually, you’re just fine the way you are: and you’re definitely not alone…