By Kirsten Archer and Lindsey Clarke, Pause Halton & Knowsley
We have all heard the songs on the radio, telling us that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” and for a lot of us, the festive period can be. Starting as early as November, every shop window is filled with decorations, reminding us at every turn of what the season brings.
Adverts fill our screens depicting huge family get-togethers, spectacular feasts and families cosying up at home watching festive films. What the media doesn’t show us, is that for many people, time with family looks completely different. Each family has their own unique circumstances. Our dinners may not look the way they do on the television, due to financial stress and the rising cost of living. Our homes may not be cosy, as we struggle to heat them up due to high energy costs.
For the women who work with Pause, who no longer have children in their care, this time of year can be especially painful for many reasons. They often feel lonely and isolated. They may not have a friend or family support network, which can emphasise feelings of guilt and shame. This is only added to by the fact that local agencies like food banks, housing providers, drug and alcohol services, local authorities and domestic abuse services have reduced working hours, meaning vital support is harder to access. Many women also talk about negative memories of the festive season from their own childhood.
For one woman working with Pause Halton & Knowsley, who is usually described by friends as being “Mrs Christmas”, this year without her children, means that she “doesn’t want to do it anymore”.
Through the work that we do supporting women to make positive changes in their lives, we understand the need for extra support around this time of year. Our practitioners start early, encouraging open conversations with the women about their feelings towards the festive season. We ask how best to support them in approaching this time of year and consider this throughout our one-to-one and group activities.
For some women, being able to experience festive staples with their practitioner, like going to a lights display or an adult pantomime, is fulfilling and joyful. For others, avoiding all reminders of the holiday is the most helpful. Therefore, we can reframe the festivities in December as end-of-year celebrations instead, making space for everyone to feel included.
Groupwork is important, as it provides a safe space for women who have had their children removed. While they all have an individual narrative, they have shared the same experience. The women are excellent at providing peer support and encouraging each other to achieve their goals over the festive period.
We encourage women working with Pause to keep their children in mind through reflective work. This is especially helpful if contact is reduced due to the bank holidays. Our practitioners advocate for this contact time with social workers to ensure, where possible, quality time can be spent with their children.
We encourage positive connotations to the season, by gifting the women nurturing and useful presents that promote self-care. We also share positive affirmations on social media, giving reminders to allocate time for personal mental wellbeing. Working with local agencies, we provide hampers to some of the women, which include vital food and clothing supplies for the winter.
Each person experiences the festive season differently and can harbour trauma around general expectations of the festive season, compared to their reality. Therefore, the next time you are speaking to someone about their festive plans, why not ask them how this time of year feels for them.
We recognise that not all the women we work with celebrate the same festivals. These considerations are equally relevant for other important family, cultural and religious celebrations throughout the year.