This is my recent column in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
It’s that time of year again, where we’re bombarded with the “magic of Christmas”. And for many it is the most wonderful time of the year.
But not for all.
None of us get to pick our families, and for those whose childhood and family life has been less than ideal this can make the holiday season challenging.
Neglect, abuse and conflict obviously cause all sorts of later difficulties. But for some they
can be left entangled with their families in somewhat unpredictable – and hurtful – ways.
That children blame themselves for abuse may be a tired cliche, but it is also true. Albeit it is more complicated than that. Because it is also true that many believe if they could only behave better, then their parents would love them. They would be kind and consistent. They think if they were better children, then they would have a better family.
Many hold onto this magical wish that one day their parents will change, and they will get what they need and what they’ve missed out on.
As adults, in many small ways, we hold onto this hope. For many people it’s what keeps them hooked into a cycle of making an effort, hoping for a different outcome, and once more being disappointed. And the idealised fantasy of the perfect family enjoying the perfect Christmas – largely in ads trying to sell us something – only reinforces and encourages this idea.
It can also be tempting to feel that the only solution to this is to avoid, or cut off from family.
But it isn’t about whether you see your family or not. It’s about engaging with the reality: seeing our families for what they really are, warts and all. And accepting that it isn’t going to change.
That may mean making different decisions, spending less time, or doing Christmas differently. Or it may mean going into the holiday season with our eyes wide open, knowing that the same things will annoy us, that we may be tempted to have the same arguments.
Or it may mean choosing not to spend Christmas with your family.
But what ever you decide, make that decision knowing the truth of the matter. And know that accepting how things are, can also mean grieving for how things weren’t.
Because while Christmas is a time for magic and wonder, magical thinking won’t fix our families or our childhood, ultimately only being able to accept and feel the truth of the matter truly allows us to move on.
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