I remember each year when our daughter was young, the so carefully crafted balance in our family always started to go pear shaped around November.
As soon as the Christmas displays started to appear in the shops, it would have a huge impact on the emotional wellbeing of our daughter.
When really young she stopped sleeping through the night, becoming restless and anxious,and ruthlessly questionning us about Sinterklaas (the Dutch variety of father Christmas). She sensed something was off, asking us how his helper was able to throw little presents down all the chimneys at the same time. She made plans to stay up all night to see how he did it (luckily falling asleep so we could carry her to bed) and questioned us relentlessly on how they knew if she had been a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ girl. Wondering if she had been a ‘bad’ girl and not going to get any presents, she restarted to eat her fingernails until they bled.
We couldn’t cope with our stressed out girl so we decided to give closure at a very young age… We told her that both Sinterklaas and Father Christmas did not really exist, that they were just figures based on ancient history and now used by shops to sell more toys to make more money. It was just us, her grandmas and other family members who gave her presents.
Anxiety or Excitement
We also explained that she couldn’t tell her cousins or the other children in the village that Sinterklaas and Father Christmas didn’t exist. We talked about how the other children experienced all the excitement around Father Christmas differently and that it didn’t trigger their imagination as it did hers and the consequently following anxiety, so it would spoil their fun if they knew when they were still young. She never spoke about it, which was a small miracle as she was very chatty.
However knowing didn’t gave her the piece of mind we had hoped for. Over the following years she became unable to cope with not knowing what she was going to get, searching the house to see if she could find any hidden presents and continuously questioning us about what we were going to give her. Stress would build up and her resilience would be so low that she would blow up very easily over small changes or become very unhappy or argumentative.
In the end we decided to tell her what she was going to get, insisting that that was all. We would also give her some surprise presents to help her learn how to deal with the unexpected. Some were received gracefully whilst others were rejected very impolitely, even in anger.
During the years she managed to grow more grateful to her grandparents even if she didn’t like the present, which we thought was a huge achievement knowing how stress provoking the whole situation was for her.
Just last Christmas with all the presents around the tree, our now twenty year old daughter pleaded jokingly to be allowed to open a present before Christmas Day. Of course we ended up opening one each the evening before. Only one though, which she happily lived with, as did we.
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