CHRISTMAS is supposed to be the best day of the year, right? Ever since we were little kids, we’ve looked forward to this day because it’s extra special.
Yet for some families it’s not, because Christmas cheer can turn into Christmas conflict.
I know many adults, particularly parents, who feel a relentless pressure around Christmas to create something “special” for everyone on Christmas Day. Separated parents in particular feel the weight of expectation and often overwhelming isolation as they face part or all of the “special day” without their kids.
In case you’re wondering, there are around one million single-parent families in Australia right now or around 20,000 in Canberra.
For some reason, men in particular don’t seem to cope well with pressure, loneliness and alcohol. Over the years, I’ve seen so many men react to stress or disappointment either through anger and violence or by withdrawing. Christmas can be a particularly difficult time, especially for newly separated dads.
So what can you do about it if your expectations don’t match reality?
- If you’re a separated parent, maybe have another special “Christmas Day”: It can be really hard as a separated parent fitting in what used to be a whole day into a lunch or dinner visit. One idea is to give your kids a second Christmas. If you can, have them over the weekend before and do the Santa thing, presents and even a Christmas dinner. Trust me, your kids won’t complain and you’ll treasure the memories, even if you’re by yourself on the actual day.
- Enjoy the moment: Even if things don’t work out the way you’d hoped, it’s still okay. People will remember how you made them feel long after they’ve forgotten any of the material stuff. If things don’t turn out well, you always have a choice on how you react: just think about how you would like people to remember this Christmas.
Walk away from conflict: If things are getting heated, walk away for a while and calm down. Again, you always have a choice in determining your own behaviour: is being right or in control more important on this day than your relationships with your family?
- Call police if there’s violence. Family violence is just plain wrong. On any day of the year. There is no excuse and no one respects someone who beats up their family. No one. Call police if you’re at risk or a trusted friend or crisis call service if you feel things are getting out of control.
- If you’re lonely or upset, get connected and stay occupied: Do something nice for yourself, find other people you know and visit them or maybe go to a community lunch or dinner. Phone a family member or a friend. If things are bad, call Lifeline, MensLine or BeyondBlue. They’ll help you get through.
- Reach out to someone else: Each Christmas I make a point of phoning friends who are recently separated or who might have had a tough year. If you know someone in this boat – a colleague, a neighbour, a friend or family member – give them a call, visit them or invite them over. Something simple like that can make a huge difference.
- Most importantly, remember it’s only one day of the year. You have 364 other days to make a difference to your family! So have a great Christmas, and celebrate every day.
Anyone who feels they need help or emotional support should call Lifeline 131114 or MensLine 1300 789978.
[This article originally appeared in the Canberra City News http://citynews.com.au/2015/fisk-when-cheer-turns-to-conflict/]