If you were to take a quick look inside my home, you would assume Santa Claus took a giant sh*t all over the freakin' place. I mean, there are holiday decorations in every nook and cranny, our tree is ridiculously huge and over-decorated, and some sort of holiday-themed movie is probably playing in the background. What makes it all the more ridiculous, however, is that I hate the holiday season. Hate. It. However, having a toxic parent makes the holidays even more important than they already are (to some people) and I've made a conscious, constant effort to give my son a Christmas I never had.
So, yes, my family does all of those clichéd, over-played holiday traditions that are somewhat commercialized this time of year. I take my kid to go see Santa (even though, honestly, the entire concept is a little creepy). This year we live in a state that is likely to provide us with some snow, so we'll go sledding and drink hot chocolate and be a real-life representation of every boring, romantic holiday movie you've probably already seen. I'll wear a set of Christmas-themed pajamas, as will my son and my partner, come Christmas morning. We'll take way too many pictures. We'll do all the festive things because, well, I never did. Sure, I had childhood family traditions, but I also grew up with an abusive father that made those family traditions dreadful, not joyous. I didn't feel warm and safe in my home, during the holidays or any other time of the year, so I want to give my son what I didn't have. I want to give him a wonderful time of the year, even though it's a time of year that forces me to relive so much pain and heartache.
People might look at the pictures I post, the over-the-top holiday planning, and the Christmas-themed everything I tend to do, and think I'm just a basic mom doing basic things in an attempt to prove she has her sh*t together. Honestly, I don't blame them. However, I also won't be apologizing for investing so much of my time, effort, and money into something as silly as the holidays. Commercialized or not; materialistic or not; unnecessary or not, this time of the year means something to me. So, with that in mind, here are just a few reasons why growing up with a toxic parent makes the holiday season so damn important:
You Want Your Kid To Have A Better Experience Than The One You Suffered Through
Ever since my son was born, I've made an effort to go all-out for Christmas. It's not because I particularly like this time of year (I don't) or because I want to check off a bunch of items on some "good mom" checklist, but because my son deserves to have a fresh perspective when it comes to the holidays. I don't want to weigh him down with my "the holidays suck" mindset, because that mindset was created by a toxic parent who made family gatherings nothing short of miserable.
I didn't have a childhood where Christmas was filled with warm, family feelings, but my son will. I feared for this time of year, because my abusive father was easily agitated and we knew what it was like to never be "good enough," when it came to giving or receiving gifts, but my son won't have the slightest clue what that's even remotely like. That, of course, means everything to me.
You Want Your Kid To Learn About What Really Matters This Time Of Year
My toxic parent made this time of the year about materialistic gifts. For example, he would buy himself presents, then label them from either my mother, my brother, or myself, because he said we were "too stupid to give him what he really wanted." Everything was about the presents; we weren't good enough to deserve what we wanted, or he had just beat us so we deserved everything we wanted. Christmas gifts were used as either a constant reminder that we were lacking, or they were used as a way to excuse his abusive behavior.
I don't want that for my son, and refuse to let my toxic parent's mindset shape my son's (or mine, for that matter). This time of the year is about so much more, and when we celebrate the holidays, I make it a point to go out and volunteer, spend time as a family, go on adventures, and cultivate a celebratory holiday season that doesn't rely on materialistic possessions. Do we still buy our son presents? Of course, and we love watching him open those presents. However, those are secondary. The time we spent together, as a family, comes first.
You Don't Want The Holidays To Be Another Thing You Have To "Survive"
Every year, right after Halloween, a palpable dread would fill the base of my stomach. I knew the holiday season was right around the corner, which would mean an increase in the verbal and physical abuse my mother, my brother, and I endured on a daily basis. There would be more fights, more screaming, more throwing, more holes in the wall, more punching; more of everything that made living in my childhood home so incredibly terrifying and difficult and painful.
I dreaded this time of year, and a part of me still does, even though I know I'm safe and have a family of my own, now. I don't want that for my son. I want him to round the corner toward the holiday season excited for everything to come. I want him to look forward to the family time we all spend together. So, I make it a point to plan family outings, decorate our home as if Santa Claus threw up all over the damn place, and do the silly-but-significant, quintessential Christmas things that make this time of the year so special to so many other people.
You Want To Start New Family Traditions...
Every year, my father's side of the family would get together. I honestly cherished that Christmas Eve tradition, but I knew that before, sometimes during, and definitely afterwards, I would be experiencing a lot of pain. My father wanted everything to be "perfect" but it never was, so the rest of us suffered because of it.
Now that I have my own family, I have the ability to create new family traditions that don't have physical, emotional, and verbal abuse woven throughout them. For example, every year we cut down our tree, as a family. Every year we donate clothes and toys. Every year we make a very specific, Puerto Rican meal. We get to do these things without the pain and anguish that was attached to my family traditions, and it has rejuvenated this time of the year (for me) and is laying the groundwork for this time of the year to be a special time for our son.
...That Don't Carry So Much Pain With Them
When I was a child, Christmas morning really meant Christmas morning with yelling and screaming and fighting.
For my son, Christmas morning really means Christmas morning with snuggles and unapologetic laziness and a delicious meal and presents and quality family time.
You Want To Give Your Kid Everything You Didn't Have
I want my son to have everything I didn't have, and I'm not talking about "stuff." For all intents and purposes, I had everything a kid could want. From the outside looking in, we were a normal middle class family and I had all the new toys and clothes and accessories that every single one of my peers wanted and/or already had. However, I was without love and affection. I was without physical safety. I was without a sense of self or anything remotely resembling self-esteem. I was without a loving father, or a sense of family that didn't make me feel undeniably inadequate.
I want to give all of those things to my son, and I have. He has a wonderful father who loves him, and never hesitates to tell him just how smart and capable and worthy of love he is. My son is safe, and always will be when he's with his father and me. I want to continue to give my son everything I never had, which includes a great holiday season.
You Want To Re-Write Your Own Past
It might sound selfish, but I love that I'm able to essentially relive my childhood through the experiences of my son. Of course I don't look to him to right the wrongs in my life, or to live in a certain way so I can live vicariously through him. However, the look on his face every Christmas morning; the wonder in his eyes when we take him to cut down our tree; the hugs and kisses he gives me, without prompt, because he just "loves mama," are all repairing a damage that still lingers inside me.
Just like I am doing everything I can to give my son a certain life, he is (without even knowing or trying) giving me a life I was made to believe I didn't deserve. I thought my toxic parent stole my childhood but, in the end, he just delayed it. My son is giving it back to me, in bits and pieces.
You Want Your Kid To Experience A Happy, Loving Family Gathering
It sounds so obvious, but when you grow up with an abusive, toxic parent, it's not. At all. I honestly didn't think that families could get together, especially during this time of year, and be happy. I knew it happened, but I never experienced it myself. This time of the year was always scary and stressful and made abuse a never-ending, constant inevitability. This time of the year was one I wished I could escape.
Now that I have a son who brings with him this palpable sense of joy, regardless of the time of year, I know what it's like to experience a happy, loving family gathering without pain or anguish. So does my son.