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What My Son Truly Wants For Christmas: My Recovery

[Image: Rev. Katie and her son on a fun walk in the park on Christmas Eve.]

My son and I were talking today, answering the question:

“What would you most want for Christmas?”

He said he was not sure what he would want, and then he looked at me and said, “Mommy, could this be anything? Like, are we imagining the perfect Christmas gift?” I told him, sure, we could imagine anything we wanted.

He said “I would want you not to have mental illness anymore. I mean, I don’t really need anything else in my life, and no thing could make my life better.”

I could have looked at what he wanted for his perfect Christmas gift and been sad. Sad that he has a life where he has such a concern. Where he has a mother with an illness, and the only thing that could really make his life better was if his mother’s illness was gone. I could have felt like a bad parent, because those of us who are parents living with mental illness are often told that we are bad parents because of our illness. However, his comment showed me two things.

First, his comment showed me that all the people who say I can’t parent because I have a mental illness are wrong. Clearly, my illness does not make his whole life bad and he feels quite secure and happy. He wants me to be well, but he also does not feel like his whole life is destryoed by my illness.

Second, it was profoundly sweet and a testament to who he is as a person. He is only ten years old, yet he took the time to consider what kind of Christmas gift might actually have the most positive effect on his life. A gift that would not only help him, but also the rest of his family. When given the option to imagine anything that he might want, he did not want a “thing” at all.

I was feeling bad this year that we did not decorate, put up a Christmas tree, or make any Christmas plans. For weeks I saw tons of posts on Facebook of parents planning out their kids gifts, decorating the house, making tons of food, and carrying on family traditions. However, we did not do any of that this year, and we all made the decision not to do these things together. None of us wanted the extra work of decorating and putting up a tree and then taking it all down later. We don’t like to get each other lots of gifts because we try to focus on the real meaning of the holiday and not get caught up in consumerism. Plus, I just don’t have the mental energy to be able to handle so many changes to our life during the holiday season. It’s too much for me right now. A few weeks ago, all of us realized that our family was more important than a holiday.

My talk with my son today reminded me of that. What he most wants for Christmas is for his mother not to have mental illness anymore. Since we did not travel anywhere, I am able to keep my two appointments a week with my therapist. Since we did not decorate, plan parties, and buy tons of gifts, I had nothing to stress out over or worry about. There is less risk of me being triggered and overwhelmed.

Today, on Christmas Eve, instead of tons of wrapping of presents, frantic house cleaning, travel, and cooking, my son and I went for a long walk at the park. My husband got off of work in the early afternoon, and we got some sushi and came home to watch all the Batman movies we could find on Netflix. We used FaceTime to connect with my family out of state and we opened the few gifts we bought each other. (Really, we just opened the boxes the gifts were shipped in.) As we were just sitting watching movies, my son said, “I love just hanging out with you guys and watching movies. Today was really fun!”

I may not be consistently free of mental illness and my recovery process is long with ups and downs every day. However, when I truly accept my limitations and assess what is important for me to do daily to stay well, then I actually am able to get closer and closer to giving my son the only Christmas gift he really wants. This year, that meant I had to accept that I just could not handle all of the requirements we all think come with Christmas. In many ways, our lack of “Christmas Spirit” means my son gets a Christmas much closer to the one gift he wants- for his mother to be well.


Rev. Katie

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