• 23 Dec - 29 Dec, 2023
  • Mag The Weekly

6 tips for facing the holidays when you and your child have
emotional pain

The holidays are soon upon us. The stores are filled with Christmas music, holiday displays, and decor, as well as enticements to shop. Perhaps you know families that are excited about it all – planning to attend several parties and setting up their own more or less elaborate decorations. Some families have relatives coming from afar to join in gatherings.

But not everyone is feeling able to generate merriness. Maybe you are part of that large number of parents across the world who are facing sad circumstances in their lives. There are many people struggling right now – one subset of these are experiencing recent or imminent losses.

Louisa and Roberto had two children: Maryanne, age 6, and Donald, age 9. Louisa’s mother had died suddenly just days before she was supposed to come to their home for a visit to celebrate the holidays. The entire family was feeling devastated – still somewhat in shock but also knowing that it was true even though they wished fervently that it wasn’t. While everyone around them seemed to be in a festive spirit and setting expectations that they be present, they didn’t feel the energy or mood to participate.

We have several suggestions for how to cope with this situation. From our experience, we know it is hard to deal with everyone else’s merriment and their expectations during this time.

1. Recognise and accept your own feelings. In this way, you can best understand what your needs are and seek out solutions and support.

2. Recognise and accept your child’s feelings. Each child may have different responses to a loss and needs time and space to understand what is happening within themselves and to the family.

3. Set clear and specific boundaries with those around you, articulating what you and your family are up to doing. This can be done with tact while still being definitive. Friends and family should understand that you are doing your best given the circumstances.

4. Work with your child and other family members to create your own activities for the holidays. Those could involve some participation in gatherings or it might not. You can make your own holiday feast or decide to go to a fast food restaurant. You can sing holiday songs or watch a movie that has nothing to do with the holidays whatsoever. The most healing response is to do what you and your family need right now knowing that this is just one holiday season. Next time you all may feel differently. You may not. You are just planning for right now. When your feelings do change, so will your planning.

5. In some families, a few members do feel festive while others don’t, so needs may seem to conflict. In this case, we suggest that your plan include different things for different family members. One adult family member could take a child to a party while another stays home with the other child, for example. Maybe a holiday tree is put up, after all, for those who want it, but it is done a bit more quietly, with a bit less fanfare, so that those who do not want it do not feel overwhelmed by it.

6. Talk with your child about how surrounded you all are with celebrations when you are not in a celebratory mood and that it is okay. It is natural to grieve after a loss and it is important to respect what you all are feeling. An important point to make might be how much people want to include you and how they can nonetheless understand your need to stay close to home this year.

The holidays are a complex time, with so many expectations and a lot of pressure to be as happy as everyone else seems to be. It can help to know you are not alone. Many people find this season difficult even if there has not been a loss. And the postings on social media may not reflect how any particular person is really feeling. What matters most is that you and your child acknowledge the range of feelings you are having, talk them through in an empathic, non-judgmental way, and do what fits your family right now. There will be plenty of time for connecting in the greater world when the mood returns, which it will. In the meantime, enjoy, as you can, the closeness you feel at home.