The Christmas break is understandably an emotional time for women as they are thinking a lot about their children and feeling a sense of loss around not having a more ‘traditional’ Christmas with their children, and wider family as well. Many women may have had a lot of negative Christmas holiday experiences prior to the loss of their children if they grew up in dysfunctional and/or abusive households as well. Any negative and painful associations will of course be exacerbated for women who are socially isolated and it’s important for practitioners to be clear on what her plans are over the holidays. Some women will be quite vocal about their feelings and others may withdraw or disengage completely for a little while. Some may increase their drug and alcohol use significantly and some may feel deeply depressed or suicidal. As a practitioner you need to be prepared for any scenario in order to best support the women. Last year in Hackney, for women that had stopped engaging, the team made sure we sent them a Christmas card and a voucher of some kind if we could not reach them by phone or in person. I think that giving adequate thought to the gifts that women receive from Pause is an important way of building on the relationship, modelling thoughtfulness and giving them a positive experience during a really difficult time. This was the same for the group Christmas party last year which we are repeating again this year.
Some women may need support around letterbox contact if their contact agreement allows for this, and others may wish to buy presents for their children and might request help from Pause to do this. As a practitioner you need to ensure boundaries are set up around this as it’s not appropriate for us to buy these gifts, and it would set an on-going precedent that would detract from our focus. We can of course support the women to think about how to acknowledge their children during Christmas in whatever form their contact arrangements allow, and help them budget or even shop for gifts, with the expectation that they will fund it themselves. Last year in Hackney we did provide one of my clients with Christmas cards to send to her children, as an exception. However, she is in prison and has limited access to income and shopping so it was felt that this was appropriate given her circumstances.
Lastly, practitioners should ensure that their women know exactly when they’re on annual leave, and who in the team is available. As much as possible other team members should try to check in with their colleagues’ clients to see how they are doing, and offer any needed support. This will also keep the relationship with Pause ‘live’ for the woman while her worker is away, and help to reassure her and minimise any discomfort she feels about this. Some women express hurt and anger toward practitioners during a period of leave as they feel abandoned, and this may be more pronounced around the Christmas period. Practitioners will need to manage some of these feelings and not be surprised if it takes a little while for the woman to re-engage after their returns. Although we can understand, acknowledge and empathise with their feelings, it’s also important that practitioners are unapologetic about having time away and being with their families as this is being clear about boundaries and the fact that it is a professional relationship, not a personal one.