A not so Merry Christmas: coping as an estranged, alienated or rejected parent
Christmas is a family time, filled with love, joy and excitement. At this time of year we are surrounded with images of the ideal family, gathered together in harmony. Messages of “peace, love and goodwill to all men” and unrealistic expectations of a “perfect family Christmas” are often unwelcome seasonal features, even for those who have separated amicably.
For those struggling with hostility, conflict or an acrimonious split, the festive season can be filled with dread and deep sorrow. Frustration, jealousy, anger, regret and guilt can dominate and overwhelm – especially where any thoughts of sharing this most precious of times with the children you love are snatched away by estrangement or alienation. While all around you seem to be enjoying perfect family celebrations, you may feel more isolated and alone than at any other time of the year.
The internet and print media has a plethora of advice on how to manage Christmas as a parent apart from your children. Much of the advice points to the benefits of making arrangements not to be alone – to share in the festivities with other family members or close friends. This can be good advice. Sharing in others’ happiness and enjoyment can lift our own mood. Positive distractions can prevent or delay rumination and associated low mood. The opportunity to re-live and remember happier Christmases can be uplifting. Most importantly, being with those who care for us, understand and accept us – unconditionally – can be immensely supportive and healing.
But what if our family and friends don’t quite understand? What if they suggest that time has passed and you should be over this by now? Isn’t it time you got on with your life? Or even, having seen the animosity meted out by your child, tell you that your child doesn’t deserve you? Messages such as these can compound loneliness, loss and a sense of isolation, and fuel the negative emotions which bubble to the surface at this difficult time.
At times like this it can help to talk to someone who has had a similar experience, someone who isn’t judgemental or someone who can tolerate your deep negative emotions. Many mothers and fathers find support and understanding from peer support forums, helplines or groups such as those provided by Families Need Fathers and MATCH Mothers. Helplines such as The Samaritans offer a chance to voice negative thoughts and express emotions in a safe, non-judgemental arena. For many parents, the lows of Christmas are a crisis point from which there is an acknowledgment that more help is needed.
Psychological therapy such as counselling or psychotherapy involves talking about your feelings, worries, frustrations and experiences in a safe, supportive environment with an empathic practitioner. The purpose of talking therapies is not to seek advice, but rather to develop an understanding of your situation, behaviours and emotions, find better ways of coping or to identify and support any changes you feel might be beneficial.
You may be sceptical, or you may feel that you have nowhere to turn and this is a last resort. You may be feeling desperate or having thoughts of harming yourself. Choosing the right practitioner for you is an important step – though many people dive straight in, arranging to see the first therapist who has availability and is reasonably priced. This isn’t a decision which should be rushed. The most significant factor in any talking therapy is the relationship that you have with your therapist. You should feel safe, accepted, not judged and comfortable enough to share your deepest feelings and thoughts – even the ones which bring you shame and embarrassment. Choose carefully and you are more likely to experience the benefits of any psychological therapy.
For tips on how to choose the right therapist for you, including ensuring that your therapist is registered or accredited, read 5 STEPs to choosing a therapist.