Let’s not catch up before Christmas

So many mums look and feel harassed at this time of year.
So many mums look and feel harassed at this time of year. Photo: Getty Images

It is a peculiarity of the Australian festive season that not only do we bake hot meals and sing about Frosty the Snowman in 35-degree weather, but that our Christmas co-incides with the end of the school year and recital time. Did I mention the work drinks?

What this means is that for parents – and let's admit it, mostly mums – is that we reach Christmas strung out, broke and possibly clutching a bottle of vodka.

Much of the pressure comes from schools, who jam the last two weeks of school with ceremonies, assemblies, sport finals, class parties and concerts on top of planning for the following school year.

Sally, an Adelaide mother of two, calculated that she has been asked to attend 10.5 hours of ceremonies, breakfasts, concerts and dances in the last 10 days of school. Not to mention make three plates of food, order a laptop, buy a Kris Kringle gift, place book orders for next year and fill out eight forms.

"I see so many parents look so harassed at this time of year", she told me.

"Is it really worth the stress that it causes?"

Of course, it's a privilege and a joy to watch children be awarded for their efforts and achievements and to perform on stage, but must it all really happen during such a short time frame?

In the Northern Hemisphere, school winds up in July, allowing a more relaxed lead up to Christmas as children settle in to a new school year.

For working parents, these additional school and extracurricular commitments fall right at the pointy end of the quarter, when businesses are trying to tie up loose ends and land business objectives before staff leave for holidays. Not exactly an easy time to request four hours' leave to watch assembly.

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Caroline, a Melbourne mother of three who works part-time, is balancing the commitments of her daughters' with caring for her elderly mother, who has an injury requiring full-time care.

"Next Thursday I have to drive her to an appointment two hours away, then be back in time for the school picnic. I've taken the following day off on leave as one daughter has a full day dance concert rehearsal (on a school day). We also have the end of year school concert, school family picnic, ballet rehearsals and concert and two Girl Guides events in next two weeks."

"The school has "saved up" excursions for this time of year, so we have 5 excursions in the next 3 weeks," added Caroline.

Concerts, assemblies and excursions require extra cash just as families are trying to save for Christmas.

And finally we have the social commitments. The community events, friend catch ups, work Christmas parties, client drinks and more, which mean you may as well throw any semblance of healthy living out the window and accept that you live on finger food and sparkling wine now.

Not surprisingly, this all leads to stress, anxiety and an increased chance of family conflict.

Research conducted by Relationships Australia found that Christmas is the most likely time of the year for many people to experience anxiety and depression.

The study of 1,500 Australians found that increased stress over the Christmas period was associated with financial and time pressure from the costs of buying gifts, entertaining and holidays, and managing competing work-family tensions.  

Almost 50 per cent of women and 45 per cent of men said that their family relationships were negatively affected at Christmas. 

Why do we do it to ourselves and what can we do about it?

It's only natural that we want to celebrate with our loved ones and not let people down. When that comes at the cost of our mental health however, it's time to re-evaluate things.

Saying no to non-essential commitments is the first step (teach your kids to do this too). Trying to get enough sleep where possible and not overdoing it on the booze is another.

But ultimately, try to not be that person making other people's lives unnecessarily hectic.

Teachers, please don't plan a 'Japanese dress up day' for kids a week before school ends.

Dance schools – you are organising a recital, not the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

As for my friends, let's not catch up before Christmas. I hear there's a lot of free time in late January.

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