Christmas for the introvert
December 28, 2010 4:26 AM Subscribe
How do I deal with multiple large family Christmas gatherings as an extreme introvert with some sensory thing
about large groups of people, loud noises and too much happening? Complicating factors are as follows.
posted by geek anachronism to Human Relations (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My family is somewhat large - only three of us siblings but all of us have partners now, I've got one child, my brother has two. Then there's my mother's four siblings with their partners, their children and my grandparents. My partner's immediate family is bigger (four siblings, all with partners, three with kids) but they don't have a whole lot of extended family. So Christmas usually ends up two gatherings (Christmas Day and Boxing Day) of 10+ people. My partner points out that this isn't actually a large gathering, but to me it is. It's overwhelming and chaotic. I can't handle it well at the best of times but Christmas has the added bonus rounds of gifting, shopping, travelling, planning meals and negotiating with family before we even get to the gathering. My ability to deal is usually bottoming out by the time we get to the gathering.
We also parent differently to his family - we do the cosleeping, extended breastfeeding, no smacking thing and they do the CIO, wean at one/push solids from 4 months, smacks and countdowns thing. I find it difficult sometimes (they will smack in front of baby anachronism who goes into hysterics each time because she's very unfamiliar with smacking and hates to see other kids cry) but I don't actually do anything other than remove baby anachronism if she's really upset. However they feel very comfortable asking when I'll start doing things their way, telling me that I'm doing it wrong and telling me that I'm screwing her up. They also feel comfortable using gifts to get the point across (I do not buy hypergendered stuff for my daughter so they bought her a hot pink leopard print pram for Christmas because it's 'funny' how I won't like it) (she already has a pram!). This leads to me not feeling comfortable around them and also policing my daughter's behaviour far more than usual.
This Christmas was a bit worse since both of my partner's parents were around and my mother in law has a tendency to attempt to be another parental/disciplinary figure so there was a bit more confusion for baby anachronism. She was really agitated and overtired so she got fairly fighty and while I understand that as a developmental inability to play with others and a lack of sleep I ended up just removing her from the situation after she pushed over both of her cousins (a 10 month old and a 2 and a half year old) (she's 1 and a half). The instant and repetitive 'oh she's so anti-social' and 'wow she hates kids doesn't she?' because of that fightiness/inability to play gets old and wearing. Once it was obvious she wasn't going to settle down and either parallel play or play nice, I got her out of there but apparently that's not enough? She's usually fine with other kids, but doesn't do well with the cousins.
I was saddled with the majority of baby wrangling as my partner was hanging out with his siblings playing cards (a game for the four of them only) which meant I got the brunt of the commentary as well as the brunt of angry, agitated and overtired toddler.
My family are less explicit in their disapproval but will make a big deal out of not making a big deal (i.e. my brother in law will say "oh, I'll just look over here so I don't look at you while you're feeding her" and they repeatedly said "it's okay that you left straight after lunch, we missed you and X was SO disappointed but it's okay you left but we were SO disappointed"). Also, they're 'dog people' so there's five rescue dogs roaming the place and NONE of them are even remotely childsafe (three have bitten children). Which means we're on edge for the whole visit making sure she doesn't get bitten. She started off terrified of them which actually made things easier but as my family have worked at getting her comfortable with the dogs, she has become bolder and now we're having to struggle with her approaching them.
We've discussed our options and while my partner has no problem with me skiving off for a bit of breathing space, he's unhappy with the amount of passive-aggressive 'concern' he gets about my absence. He acknowledges that the status quo of 'guys get to hang out, wimmins do the babywrangling/clearing up' isn't cool and neither is spending most of the time involved in an exclusive group activity. His birthday is Christmas Eve and it's a massive deal for him (as is spending Christmas with our families) so not being in town has been vetoed. It's honestly my first preference so I'm a little lost for other options. This Christmas was just so obnoxiously bad (it included a pitched comment across the table asking me about the self-harm scars on my arms) that I am reluctant to do it again.
The things I have decided to do are: donation gifts for everyone who isn't a child/my grandparent, writing up an action plan so I don't end up with no idea what is happening, making sure my partner deals with more of the preparation and making sure I have surefire escape routes open. We cope with the introversion/anxiety/sensory issues reasonably well at other times, but Christmas just tends toward a clusterfuck of bad shit that adversely impacts everything around us so I need to get this under control before next year.
The things I'm struggling with: how the hell can I make Christmas something fun for me and my daughter, dealing with obnoxious parenting stuff including the passive aggressive gifting, dealing with the dogs and dog 'parents' and how I can maybe negotiate more with my partner about minimising my involvement in Christmas?
Without making myself into some ridiculous Scrooge McGrinch type character. Or resorting to medicinal interference.