Christmas used to be my favourite time of year. I loved everything about it. The whole build up throughout December, the songs, the movies, the presents, the decorations, the parties; I loved it all.
Once I became a dad I couldn’t wait to see Christmas through the eyes of a child again. All that excitement about whether Santa will come and visit our house. The joy of ripping open the piles of presents in the morning. The chance to celebrate with friends and family and all come together. December would be a month filled with fun.
Instead, for the last 5 years, I’ve really struggled with this time of year. It’s become a time of very mixed emotions, and even though I want to, I’ve found it really hard to enjoy it
Autism has meant that Christmas as a parent has been nothing like what I expected it to be.
Christmas can be a difficult time for anyone with autism. The change in routine, the sensory overload of the presents and the tree, and the increase in social occasions are but a few reasons.
This will be my 8th Christmas a dad, and throughout December I feel surrounded by the Christmases that we’ve never had.
Instead of being my favourite time of year that I can’t wait for, I find myself having to battle against feelings of sadness, anger and jealousy.
Jealous of the Christmases that friends and family all seem to be enjoying with their children.
Sad about the fun and excitement that my boys are missing out on.
Angry at the world that this is what our Christmas is like
December feels like a month full of events and traditions that we are unable to take part in as a family.
Jude and Tommy have no comprehension of what Christmas is, for them December is just another month of the year, and the 25th is just another day.
There’s no making a list for Santa, telling him what presents you would like. No concept of whether you’ve been naughty or nice.
There’s no trip to see Santa in his grotto. A queue full of other kids to get a present that they have no interest in is not their idea of fun.
There’s no going Christmas shopping and seeing all the lights. The crowds and sensory overload that would bring rules that out.
There’s no fun day decorating the house and putting up the Christmas tree together. Every year we do it knowing that each ornament has to be non-breakable in case they are thrown or bounced. We used to only decorate the top half of the tree, but now Jude is older, most of it is within reach this year.
There’s no visiting family, or having large get-togethers. Jude and Tommy are comfortable in very few places, so going to see cousins, and friends with their children is a no-no. Plus their carefully decorated house can be completely undone within a matter of minutes.
There’s no Christmas movies. I can’t believe I don’t get to watch Christmas films! I love them and couldn’t wait to sit down and introduce my boys to all of my old favourites, Santa Claus the movie, A Christmas Carol, Elf, the list goes on. Instead, the only Christmas programme we get to enjoy have to involve Mickey Mouse or Special Agent Oso (for the 7,352nd time) If they’re not in it, they’re not interested.
There’s no day out to see a Christmas Panto. Sitting still for more than 2 minutes is impossible right now, without taking into account all the other sensory problems it would bring.
There’s no trip to Church to listen to a carol service, or for mass on Christmas Eve
There’s no talk of Santa. No leaving food out for him on Christmas Eve. No trying to spot him out of the window, or listening for the sounds of sleigh bells in the night.
There’s no waking up in the middle of the night to the sounds of “Has he been?’ There’s every chance I’ll be woken up in the night, but it’s for the iPad, not for the presents.
There’s no rushing downstairs in the morning full of excitement at the pile of presents that await them. No huge smiles on their face as they rip the wrapping paper off and find the gift they’ve been hoping for.
Pretty much every picture and idea I had in my head of what my family Christmases would be like, are yet to materialise.
And I’ve struggled with that each year.
Every film, every advert, every song, every picture on Facebook or Instagram, all portray this perfect family Christmas that we’ve never been able to experience. As much as I still love Christmas I feel like I spend most of December constantly have to fight back these feelings of jealousy, anger, and an overwhelming need to just cry.
The more I write about it the more I realise how pathetic I sound.
Who am I feeling sad for?
Who am I feeling jealous for?
And who am I feeling angry for?
Is it my boys? Or really is it just me?
The reality is neither Jude or Tommy understand what Christmas is so they have no idea what they are missing out on. All I’m doing is upsetting myself.
Apart from the religious meanings, Christmas is about being thankful, being with family, and being happy, so that is what I have to focus on. Forget about the old traditions and expectations I had, and focus on creating new, different memories.
So this year I’ll wrap their presents and try to encourage them to open them Christmas morning, but if they’re not interested that’s ok. If it takes 5 days to open their presents, and I have to do it for them, then that’s ok too.
Whilst other families are busy getting ready for dinner I’ll take advantage of the quiet streets and take them out for a walk. We’ll go along the river all the way to the park, and not have to worry about anyone being on the swings when we get there. We’ll stay there as long as they want, there’s no rush of a family party to get ready for.
When we get home we’ll watch Mickey Mouse and Special Agent Oso, make puzzles, bounce on the sofas, anything that makes their day be a happy one.
Their Christmas dinner will consist of sausages and pizza, just like any other day because that’s what they like to eat. We’ll have Jude in one room, and Tommy in another as that’s how they can both be at their happiest.
In time, maybe they will understand what Christmas is. Maybe we will get to watch festive movies together. Maybe we will have family get-togethers, decorate the house, and open presents. Right now, that’s not what is important.
My Christmas Day will be about doing whatever will make it memorable for them. My happy memories will be created by seeing a smile on their face, so whether that’s opening a present, or simply bouncing up and down on the bed, that’s what I’ll focus on.
I’m not going to pretend it’s going to be easy to shut out the images that bombard us during December. I can’t say I won’t look at other families enjoying their Christmas and secretly wish ours were the same.
But the main thing is I intend on being thankful for what I do have rather than what I’m missing out on. I have 2 beautiful, healthy boys who I adore, friends and family who understand and love us, and the chance to make our own traditions, and happy memories this Christmas.
So here it is, Merry Christmas, Everybody’s having fun. Look to the future now, it’s only just begun