There’s no getting around that Mary Beth Cochran’s holiday season is an adjustment this year. The 51-year-old is raising two of her 10 grandchildren, which was a financial challenge for her before the pandemic.
But the coronavirus has strained an already tight situation. First, she was furloughed earlier this year. Then the store she worked at closed. Living on just her disability benefits and state services for her grandchildren, she can’t always make her groceries last through the month. She has found herself having to go to food banks — sometimes more than one — to make up the difference.
For Christmas, she was able to get some basic clothes for her grandson, 6, and her granddaughter, 11. A church helped with some additional presents.
She knows money is not what is important. But this year has been tough on the kids already, she said. Between virtual and hybrid school, and the adjustments they had to make in a pandemic world, it feels like too much some days.
“Sometimes, after the kids are in bed, I cry for about 10 or 15 minutes,” Cochran said.
For so many, the pandemic and the resulting “shecession” are forcing a leaner holiday. And although kids may be disappointed, experts say that’s perfectly okay.
“You buy your kids a ton of gifts, and for my household and I think many others, they play with them for a hot second, and then it’s done, and they move on to the next thing,” said Leesha Ellis-Cox, a psychiatrist in Birmingham, Ala. “What really matters to kids is the memories they have of what you did with your holiday traditions. It provides an opportunity this holiday season to step away from commercialism. And I would encourage parents to make that jump perpetually.
“Society has pretty high expectations of moms to have it all together and to create Pinterest-worthy crafts, and make sure your kids are always well-behaved and you’re all put together. There’s a ton of pressure coming from a multitude of sources,” said Ellis-Cox, who wrote the book “Ditch the Mommy Guilt.”
“Step away from it and focus on traditions that you can create — especially in the season of physically distanced holidays, where you’re not having big gatherings with your family or friends,” she said.
Maureen Sayres Van Niel, a psychiatrist based in Cambridge, Mass., agrees.
Those facing the realities of this holiday season should try to keep in mind that although it’s painful in the short term, this year is one season in a lifetime full of memories, she said. It’s important to relieve yourself from expectations of perfection.
“Your day-to-day life and how to relate to your children over the course of a lifetime determines what’s important,” Sayres Van Niel said.
She also recommended creating new traditions.
One family she knows has a ritual gathering together to recount special moments. The memories are kept in a book, and each family member writes a page about what they valued the most that year. She also recommended embarking on a project to feel as if they’re creating something together, rather than buying gifts. One family made chimes out of bars of metal, wood and wire, which was inexpensive. Another found a book in the library about holiday traditions around the world and studied a different one every night in December.
Even though many are feeling guilty about so much this year — lost opportunities, work, income, time spent with loved ones, adjusting to home schooling — it may be worth examining what is behind those feelings, she said.
“Guilt is a strategy people psychologically use to deal with the fact they don’t have control over a situation. It’s a common reaction. By feeling guilty, you feel you have some control over a situation, and that’s easier to handle than the vulnerability of acknowledging there’s little you can do,” she said.
Sayres Van Niel recommends trying to be open and vulnerable about how much is out of our control.
There’s a “tsunami” of issues overwhelming women right now, she said. “We’re seeing real biological anxiety and depressive syndromes that can happen.” When needed and if possible, women should seek professional help, she added.
And when it comes to helping kids cope with a tough holiday season, turn to whatever it is that you can control, she said.
“You want to focus on what’s really important and helps the child grow,” Sayres Van Niel said. “The richness is in coming together and knowing it’s a special time in their life.”