The “Christmas Meltdown” has become an annual tradition in our family.
Usually the meltdown occurs when something connected to the good ol’ Tannenbaum doesn’t go right. Past years, I’ve led my family to Christmas tree stands and picked Fraser Firs either too tall, too fat, or both too tall and too fat.
My family waits on the couch while I struggle to wind 8,000 tangled LED lights around the tree’s girth, its tiny green needles pricking my face and arms. For ambiance, I’ve lit the fireplace, blasting furnace-like heat into the living room, which means I sweat as I labor around the tree. I notice the tree leans after jamming it into the stand.
When we (including two kids under the age of seven) start decorating, Christmas ornaments inevitably tumble off the boughs. The resulting smash on the hardwood floor sounds like a thousand dance steps by fleet footed Christmas ferries.
Don’t get me started on trying to set up the toy train around the skirt.
Finally, I break. Strings of curse words spill out under my breath. I storm off into another room to cool down. Inevitably, all the frustration and uber-high expectations I myself have set come crashing down, much like our Christmas tree did one year while I tried to fix the toy train track.
Some one grab me some egg nog. And some brandy.
truth about fatherhood and holidays
New Dads and Dads-to-Be, gather ’round the Christmas tree as it lays on the floor amidst a dozen shattered ornaments and spilled pine sap.
Nothing captures our imagination quite like the holidays when we first have kids. It’s as if our culture has given us permission to dream big, to tap into our childhood imaginations, to finally have a turn as the master of Christmas ceremonies (for many, like our fathers before us).
We shall lead our family to Christmas glory! On wife! On child! On Prancer and Vixen and Rudolph and all the other reindeer whose names we can’t recall!
We get to make new Christmas traditions and incorporate some old ones from our own childhood. We get to create memories for our children. What an amazing opportunity!
It’s just, well, stressful. There, I said it. Christmas time as a Dad is stressful if we let our imaginations and expectations get a hold of us. Christmas in our memories and in advertising is always billed as this joyous season. And it is. But …
You might think: “Hey, let’s take the kids to the zoo because it’s decorated in lights and some of the animals are out and we can ride the zoo train around!”
Then you get there, and the temperature has dropped to Arctic levels and the line for the train takes two hours. Just as you’re about to finally board, the child announces to everyone in ear shot she has to pee.
At least you can go into the elephant house to warm up, but that also means smelling for a good 15 minutes what the elephants have left on the floor before the child has to go to the potty again.
To achieve the promised joy of the Christmas season, to gain some perspective, we have endure a lot of discomfort, anxiety, and even disappointment.
Five things I wish for new Dads this Christmas
There’s hope. Real hope. It’s Christmas after all.
You can make a memorable, fun, festive season for your family, and yourself. To that end, here are five things I wish for you and all new Dads and Dads-to-Be this Christmas:
1.) To remember it’s not about you anymore. As with all things fatherhood, one of the hardest lessons for all of us to learn is how life will no longer be about ourselves — our wants, desires, experiences, mistakes, successes. This applies to the holidays, too. You might want something to go a certain way — decorating the tree, watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas together as a family, hosting a Christmas party — but your spouse and children may not see it the same way.
For years, I wanted to make popcorn and watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with my kids. Who doesn’t? Burl Ives singing, Yukon Cornelius, Rudolph’s perseverance.
I invited my oldest child at about the age of three to watch it with me. Totally freaked him out. The appearance of the Abominable Snow Man alone set him back emotionally by several years, so much so that I suspect the reason he wants a cat is because shaggy dogs remind him of, well, you get what I’m saying.
I thought I was opening his world to wonderment. We’re talking about a flying reindeer with a glowing red nose, after all. He’d see me as a great man, a Christmas-time leader to follow. Instead, he was traumatized.
And don’t get me started on the terror of seeing Santa.
I pushed it too hard. Remember, the children will often let you know when they’re ready for things like visiting Santa. Play it cool. Think of their wishes and needs first before your own.
2.) To start your own holiday traditions. Now, here’s what’s amazing. When you achieve balance between how you want the Christmas to unfold with what wants and wishes of your spouse and child, an amazing thing happens.
You start holiday traditions all your own. And that’s so fantastic.
This is your family. You’re creating memories for your children (and yourself). You don’t need your parents permission any more. If you want to Clark Griswold the **** out of your house, you can! If you’d rather have colored lights on the tree instead of white, you can! Assuming your spouse is on board, too.
Try new things. Try old things. Some won’t work, while others your family will embrace. Eventually, your own family traditions take shape.
3.) To remember holiday traditions won’t be perfect. Dude, Christmas ain’t Pinterest and Pinterest ain’t Christmas. Just in case someone hasn’t told you or you haven’t paid much attention to what I’ve written in this post so far.
Honestly, though, we all have a bad habit of setting expectations for the Christmas season way too high. Lower them, even just a little bit. Ease off the pressure. Try to let go from time-to-time and enjoy the experiences as they are rather than how you think they should be.
4.) To connect with friends. We turn 30 and suddenly, without warning, we find out how difficult maintaining friendships can be. The New York Times did a spot on article about this.
Careers get in the way. We move to other cities. And oh yeah, you have kids and those kids dominate your life and every waking hour.
Maintaining friendships — I mean, real friendships, the kind which provide in-person conversations and emotional support — is hard after you become a parent.
So I hope if you’re a new Dad, you can find a little time for friendships. Go out with your buds one night and commiserate over a pitcher and plate of hot wings, like you used to. Encourage your spouse to spend a few hours reconnecting with friends this December, too.
It’s Christmas, after all, so what better time to rekindle friendship?
5.) To have a little “Me” Time. One of the keys to good mental health as a father, IMO, is finding a little “Me” Time here and there.
Take a break. Get out of the house. Nothing wrong with being away from the children for a few hours, maybe once a week, maybe just twice a month, and doing something for yourself.
You find white chocolate peppermint lattes a guilty pleasure? Go grab one. Like perusing the new Christmas decorations on sale at some hobby shop? Walk those aisles. Are you the only one who cares about the downtown Christmas train display? Take a trip to the city.
Those breaks, having a little “Me” Time, they can recharge our energies, help us destress, get reoriented, and become better Dads and spouses.
I hope those five wishes find their way into your Christmas season and help make it merry and bright. Have any other suggestions for a successful holiday season as a Dad? Please leave them in the comments below.
Dave is shamelessly addicted to Christmas music and sets out to make his home Pinterest-worthy every December. He’s also father to two sons and lives with his wife in Lancaster, Pa. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.