Last fall I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I decided to have a double mastectomy with a DIEP flap reconstruction. (They take tissue out of your stomach to reconstruct your breasts – leaving your whole front half pretty incapacitated for a recovery period of 6+ weeks.) I had my surgery on November 9th which meant that I was recovering through Thanksgiving and still not 100% for Christmas. Let me just say that trying to celebrate the holidays with kids while you are in recovery sucks.
There was so much mom guilt! I wasn’t able to cook the things we normally made for thanksgiving, I wasn’t able to decorate like I normally do, and my kids were constantly swinging between feeling sad, angry, scared and confused.
Here are 5 tips to help you get through the Holidays this year if you are facing a similar situation
Tip 1: Set Expectations
Prior to my surgery I really wanted to believe that I would be able to do everything that we normally do for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The problem was, I ended up being so much more incapacitated that I expected. If I had set expectations to start with rather than trying to wing it, I think it would have helped everyone.
I would also suggest that you set the expectations low – you can always do more than you promised but not being able to do everything that your kids and spouse and family expect is challenging.
It’s okay to have an honest conversation with everyone about what you are willing to do and what you will not be able to do. I know that it is so tempting to try to play super-mom or super-dad and still try to do it all but give yourself the grace and the permission to take time to heal.
Tip 2: Get Help
Think through all of your normal traditions and decide where you may need some help. If you are in recovery, cooking is probably hard. If you are limited with your movement, decorating and/or wrapping presents is going to be challenging.
Looking back, I can see that I had plenty of friends who would have been happy to come over and help my kids decorate or bring us a pumpkin pie for thanksgiving. Planning ahead and getting people in place to help would have made a big difference. Plus, all of these type of activities are great easy and tangible tasks for all of those people offering to help.
Tip 3: Make New Traditions
There are probably some traditions that just aren’t going to go down how they normally do. For us, I was not ready to have a big family Thanksgiving just 10 days or so after my surgery. That was really hard for my kids as they are used to playing with their cousins and having all of the chaos and noise that family brings.
We also weren’t able to go to some of the Holiday events that we normally do because I wasn’t able to stand and walk for long periods of time.
There will be grief and loss over not being able to do all of those traditions this year but if you can frame things as making new traditions, it can help to ease a little bit of the sense of loss.
Some of our new traditions included decorating cookies with our neighbors, having an outdoor fire and roasting marshmallows after Thanksgiving dinner, and encouraging my sons to put on “concerts” or “plays” about the Holidays for me while I watched from the couch.
I’ve also put together a big list of new Holiday Tradition Ideas that can all be done from the couch! Download the list in the Parenting Resource Library Now! (If you don’t already subscribe to the Library, you can do so for free below.)
Download the list of New Family Traditions that you can do from the couch in the Parenting Resource Library Now!
Tip 4: Holiday Movie Marathons Are Your Friend
Watching movies with your family is one thing that you can probably still do. There are so many great Holiday Movies. Set a day every week during the Holiday Season and come up with a calendar of Movies that you want to watch together. This creates something fun for everyone to look forward to and also gives you some of that sense of bonding that Holiday Traditions are so good at creating.
Tip 5: Expect a Rollercoaster of Emotions from Everyone (including you)
Even with setting expectations, getting help, finding new traditions and filling your time with Holiday Movies, expect that there will still be a roller coaster of emotions for everyone. My oldest son and I had multiple times where he was just so angry and hurt and took it all out on me. My youngest son often felt confused and sad and just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t doing what I normally do. Even my husband struggled with feeling frustrated and would try to pretend that everything was normal and not understand why I couldn’t go to events where I was physically incapable of going.
For myself, I swung between moments of deep grief, overwhelming guilt, anger and frustration and often a sense of detachment that felt so pervasive.
All of that being said, as we approach the Holidays this year with my health and normal abilities intact, I can look back on those hard moments from last year and know that they weren’t as traumatic as they felt in the moment. They didn’t scar my kids for life or break apart my marriage. There is a kind of calming, comforting balm to the hurt in being able to look back with this knowledge. So, know that this year will be hard but there are things that you can do to try to ease some of the pain. And, this is just 1 year in the (hopefully) many years of Holiday celebrations your family will have.