It took having a baby to realize that my wife is a real-life, honest-to-God scrooge. We have a 9-month-old and every night since Thanksgiving, I’ve been pushing for Christmas planning, but to no avail. She has avoided or rejected my advances. She doesn’t want to talk about presents, Santa photos, getting a tree (and toddler-proofing said tree), decorating our house, or getting our son an elf onesie. She is worse than uninterested — she’s aggressively killing the Christmas spirit (Example: I was in the middle of watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the third time and she simply turned the TV off).
Here’s the thing: We used to love the holidays! I mean, her parents have so many lights they put Clark Griswold to shame. We go to church, so it’s not a religious thing. She’s a shopper, so it’s not a consumerism thing. It clearly has to do with the baby sucking out her Christmas spirit when the opposite should be true. What do I do to get rid of her ba-humbugs?
Grinched in Green Bay
My knowledge of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is largely based on the Muppet version, in which Scrooge is played by Michael Caine. At one point in the film (and I assume the book), Scrooge says a very sensible thing to his nephew in a very grumpy way: “You keep Christmas in your way and let me keep it in mine.” The nephew cheerily presses on, but I think Scrooge has a point. There is no singular experience of Christmas that can be or should be maintained. The feeling we have toward the holiday change over the course of our lives. Right now, you and your wife simply desire different experiences. It’s a misalignment problem, not a permanent issue.
There could be many reasons your wife’s experience of Christmas isn’t cheery this year and they range from the benign (she’s tired) to the troubling (she’s experiencing postpartum depression). Either way, her apparent shift in attitude for no apparent reason should be understood as a way of communicating something’s off. How you proceed from here may not save your Christmas and fill her with cheer, but it may give you insight that will help you both as you enter the new year.
The thing I find a bit troubling is that in your holiday cheer you seem to have forgotten to engage in a real conversation with your partner about how she’s feeling. I know that because you’re searching for an answer. You note that she hasn’t suddenly become a consumerism-hating socialist. You say she hasn’t become an atheist. You do say that it must be because the baby is sucking the life out of her. But do you really know that? Have you asked her? That might be a good place to start.
It might help if you start the conversation by explaining your observation. Don’t accuse her of grinchy-ness, that’s only likely to make her Grinchy-er. Just let her know you’ve noticed that she is troubled or bothered by Christmas. Let her know you care about her and you just want to help out.
There is a possibility that she might not know what’s going on. And if she’s feeling acute generalized sadness, anger, or having thoughts that she’s not a good enough mother, you might want to encourage her to talk to a counselor or her OB/GYN. These could be signs of postpartum depression and should absolutely be addressed as soon as possible. But there’s another possibility that she just feels overwhelmed, overworked and exhausted. And that’s where you have a really great opportunity to help.
Contrary to your question, this is not a time to go full Clark Griswold and demand that Christmas be holly-jolly at all costs. Because if you really think about it, the only one that would benefit from enforced cheer is going to be yourself. I get it. I do. In these weird days, it’s important to have some light. But there a problem when that light is at the expense of others.
I know some of your concerns might be linked to the fact that it’s your kids’ first Christmas. And man, a kid’s first Christmas can be a heady time. Christmas means a whole lot more with kids involved, being a kid-centric holiday and all. But, again, your child is 7-months old. They don’t know what the hell Christmas is and they are not going to remember that they celebrated it with you. So again, putting up a festive Christmas this year isn’t about your kid as much as it is about you.
Here’s something of which I am absolutely certain. Christmas is a time for giving, more than it’s a time for receiving. And right now, your wife needs your gift of empathy, consideration, and kindness. If there is something you can take off her plate, then do that. If there is a way to keep Christmas that doesn’t require her to perform or even participate, then go ahead and do that.
Scrooge’s heart eventually changed and he learned about the power of generosity. You might need to learn a bit about that too. And I assure you that your wife will come back around someday. It might require some time to herself, some sleep, or maybe even psychological help, but she will come back around. You just need to support her until she does.