ARTICLE: Christmas Is For Sharing… Let Someone You Care For Know They Are Not Alone
The following article was published by the Kanner Jugend Telefon (KJT) as part of their ongoing BOD campaign (December 2017):
In many cultures there is a huge emphasis on spending time with family at Christmas. This tradition, of course, is at the heart of why Christmas is celebrated. As a Christian festival it marks the birth of Jesus not only the son of God but also a human infant. The birth of a child is generally celebrated in the family and so whatever your faith this is a time to spend with them. This is an ideal that is often reinforced by culture, community and mainstream advertising campaigns.
But what if spending time with family is more complicated by separation or divorce, long distances or other difficulties within the family that may cause tension, like financial or health problems. As the traditional nuclear family make up changes, so can the potential for extra tension at this time of year. Traveling long distances, moving around, visiting lots of people and staying in temporary accommodation can also be an extra stress on families. The period of Christmas itself is increasingly a time when families are under pressure to spend resources possibly beyond their budgets on travel, gifts, festive food and other luxuries. Added to this when families get together, after some time apart, old patterns of relating or arguments can erupt especially when there is alcohol involved. The expectations of a ‘Happy Christmas’ and ideals placed by society on families can cause a huge strain on parents and children. Especially if they are surrounded by messages saying that they should be having a good time.
As adults we need to be aware that some of the children and adults friends we know and/or care for may be facing similar situations and possibly feel anxious or excluded from all the excitement in anticipation of Christmas. They may also feel ashamed or guilty for having negative feelings when everyone is supposed to be happy. It can be very difficult to talk about this within their family if they are worried about hurting someone’s feelings. If you are concerned about a child, young adult or friend you may be able to help by asking them how they feel about Christmas, and being prepared to listen to what they have to say. Children and adults often think that their particular problem is not shared with others and are relieved to know that often families struggle at this time.
As parents it can be helpful to plan ahead especially if you are visiting family and friends a long way from your adopted home. Try to include your older children in your planning. Try to reduce moving around too much as this can put younger children out of their rhythm and may lead to over stimulation and melt downs. Children also pick up on the stress of adults around them and can often share their anxiety if there are particular strains on relationships inside the extended family. If you are visiting or staying with family or friends it is important to be open about this, as they may not appreciate some of added challenges for your family at this time. It may also come as a relief to talk about ways of reducing stress because they may appreciate the opportunity to share their own concerns.
If you are separated or divorced Christmas can be especially difficult, as in general children do not want to have to choose between who they spend time with and may still cling on to the ideal of everyone being together. New families often have different traditions as well, that may take some time to get used to. As it can all be at bit overwhelming, especially in the time just after a break up or the first Christmas, it can help to try and involve the children as much as possible in planning where they want to be, and with who. Parents might need to plan for some one to one time with children too.
Developing a practice of gratitude within the family can help children (and adults) to focus on the original spirit of Christmas, being thankful for what they have rather than what they want. There are many simple ways to create a tradition of practicing gratitude in the family, and several have been shown scientifically to increase a feeling of wellbeing and improve empathy. There are also some fun alternative Christmas games to play when the turkey is burnt like ‘It Could Be Worse’ or ‘What am I Grateful for… Charades’. A healthy dose of humour is recommended to help everyone cope with the fact that family Christmases may not be perfect, but they make great stories.
Most importantly there is always someone to talk to anonymously and confidentially at the Kanner Jugend Telefon English Online Help Service in Luxembourg. They will be there all over the holidays so if you as an adult or any child or youth you know needs some information, advice or just someone non – judgemental to contact please tell them about this service which can be contacted on: www.kjt.lu
Happy Christmas – You are not alone.