Jayne Dawson: Why Christmas is with mums for life

CHRISTMAS is lovely when your children are young, isn't it? There's so much fun to be had, preparing a magical experience, doing everything for them, wearying yourself to the bone, all for the pleasure of seeing their faces light up. Of course it's not the same when your children are grown ...hang on a minute, though.

Actually, I've just realised.... my children are grown up...and it is still the same.

That's the thing about doing an empty nester's Christmas that no-one ever tells you – it's just the same amount of work as the toddler version...hang on another minute though, I've just realised something else...

Actually, it's not the same at all. It's harder.

Think back, all you fellow empty nesters to the days when your children were young. Christmas was great, wasn't it?

There was all the usual stuff: the worry about how you were going to pay for it all, the vicious rows with your partner.


And the lying awake in the middle of the night working out that if you managed on three hours sleep for four nights running then you could do it all: attend your works do, make your own bread sauce, complete the big Christmas shop, buy the must-have toy of the year, keep up your exercise regime, get your eyebrows done, tidy your desk at work ready for the New Year, make sure you got the holiday weeks that coincided with the school holidays – and fit in a trip to Boots to buy some of those herbal calming tablets.

There was all that, of course there was. But as well as that there was the magic, wasn't there? There were the carols under the school Christmas tree, the Nativity play, the innocent questions about how the presents arrive, the bringing down the pillowcases full of presents late on Christmas Eve.

And you would decorate the house, wouldn't you? And make the tree look lovely, and leave out a carrot and a mince pie for you-know-who and his reindeer. And try to remember to carry on breathing in the midst of this frenetic whirlwind of activity.

It was lovely, but now it's over and you're free, free, free as a bird. But only in theory.

In theory, you don't have to decorate the house, you don't have to create pillowcases full of gifts, you don't have to go off on holly-picking missions, you don't have to buy a selection box, or a turkey or one single, solitary walnut in its shell...except that you do.

You do, for the simple reason that, if you don't, everybody assumes you have sunk into a clinical depression, or lost your zest for life, or become seriously old.

You do it because, if you don't, there will just be a big, gaping, black hole, a hole the size of Greenland, where Christmas used to be.

That's because no-one else will take up the baton. Once you have become your own family's little Mother Christmas, that's it. You have the job until your arms are too frail to lift a single, gossamer-light bauble onto even the littlest, lowest branch of the smallest tree in Christendom.

Christmas is your gift to your family, whether you want to bestow it or not. Until your body requires life support, your family will look at you expectantly with little upturned faces – no matter how big and tall they are – to make things nice, and warm and cosy for them at this time of year.


So the thing to do is embrace your role: laugh in the face of anything that pretends to suggest that you are in fact at liberty to drop the Christmas tree branch. Anything that suggests that you can skip off laughing to spend the kids' inheritance at this time of year.

You will not be able to hole up in a posh spa somewhere hot, you will not be able to fly off to some perfect ski resort, you will not be able to eat a ready meal on Christmas day.

The burden of expectation will force you to take up the yoke of Christmas and carry on wearing it – and also you will want to.

Because there really is little that is better than making Christmas happen for your children, even if they are proper grown-ups.

Tim Wray, former executive chairman of Turner & Townsend

Former Turner & Townsend chairman Tim Wray dies aged 69