‘My husband and I, who have become more co-parents than partners, barely spoke as I made an elaborate meal that my children never ate.’: Woman ‘determined to do things differently’ this holiday season

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year—unless you work in retail. Or had a fallout with a family member. Or are celebrating the first (or fifteenth) Christmas without a loved one.

Lately I’ve been thinking about everyone who feels a little hole in the holiday season—because that’s where I’m at this year. It’s been hard to find my Christmas spirit. I’ve done all the things: staff parties, preschool performances, cookie exchanges, candy cane cocktails. I’ve given and been gifted—even stained my lips red. But it all falls short. I’ll get a little glimpse and then, gone.

Courtesy Stephanie Hanrahan

I struggle with the big built-up days. I’m no Grinch, I just believe that sometimes when you put lofty expectations out there (like saying it’s the most wonderful time of the year), it makes people feel that much worse when it isn’t. The holiday season is indeed magical—but marital problems, mental health issues, children breaking down, bankruptcy, miscarriage, family discord—they don’t just disappear because it’s December 25th.

I always pictured myself as part of a Family Stone-type unit. You know, card games and sing-a-longs—joke telling and children running rampant. Controlled chaos (which is funny because in my ordinary life I really crave calm, cool, and collected).

But that’s the vision of Christmas I want, and yet my cards have fallen differently so it’s probably never what I’ll get.

Courtesy Stephanie Hanrahan

Last Christmas Eve we took the children to see a spectacular display of lights and left early with my daughter in tears from a sensory breakdown. On Christmas Day, my son (who has autism) opened one present then refused any more. His stack sat in the living room as he ran around doing his rituals and then retreated to the TV. My husband and I—who have become more co-parents than partners—barely spoke as he assembled batteries and I made an elaborate meal that my children never ate.

Christmas, ‘the greatest day of the year,’ fell incredibly flat. And as I scrolled through social media, comparing my hardships to everyone else’s highlight reel, I learned it’s possible to feel unhappy even on the holiest of days.

Courtesy Stephanie Hanrahan

So, this year, I’m determined to do a few things differently. Instead of searching for my joy in a store, or trying to control my circumstances, I’m going to change my perspective.

The true gift of the holiday season is that we get to go a little easier on ourselves and those around us. There’s a little more forgiveness; a little more grace. Patience (maybe, I’m still practicing that one) and appreciation. People are brought together who may normally be divided. We get time off work to sit down and settle into a less hurried life.

Sometimes the hustle of the holidays can diminish the holiness. It’s easy to get lost in the chaos (or checkout lines), so if doing it all didn’t work for you and you’re still searching for your joy too, maybe we should just try getting quiet. Looking smaller. Sitting still. After all, they found Christ in a manger of hay, not on center stage.

Maybe the small, unsuspecting moments—like my daughter learning to read Santa’s letter or my son making eye contact with me on Christmas morning—are where the true miracles lie.

Courtesy Stephanie Hanrahan

I’m taking the next few days to zero in on the ones in front of me—to the life I’ve been given and the life I’ve managed to create. It’s not always packaged with a pretty little bow, but it’s mine and I’m proud of it.

December 25th is an important date, but it’s only one day out of the year. Rest assured that if it feels different than expected—if your hardships seems to outweigh your highlights—we get many more opportunities to get it right. Any day can have whatever meaning we assign to it. We get to control how we feel about our people and the places we invest our energy in all year long.

Courtesy Stephanie Hanrahan

I’m not sure it was ever supposed to be about bigger, bolder, brighter, better. Small and unsuspecting. Maybe that’s it.

Maybe that’s where our Christmas spirit hides.”

Courtesy Stephanie Hanrahan

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stephanie Hanrahan. Follow Stephanie on Facebook here, Instagram here and visit her website here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more from Stephanie here: 

‘I do my part to make friends. I wave at school pick up. I smile at the girls in my workout class who then huddle together, leaving little room for a newcomer.’: Mom says it’s OK if you’re not invited to all the holiday parties

‘That’s when I heard the thud. The sound of a two-hundred-plus pound body hitting the nightstand next to our bed. A healthy, thirty-one-year old, former athlete doesn’t just drop.’

‘My Son’s teacher recently friended me on social media. I came upon a picture of her holding a chalkboard sign that read, ‘I said YES!’ She’s already married, so it struck me as odd.’

‘We would take them no matter what.’: Mother of special needs children tries to relinquish Godmother duties from best friend, she refuses, ‘It doesn’t need to be discussed’

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