Whilst not officially advent until yesterday, across the land on the 1st, doors were opened on calendars marking the days until… I love the spirit of Christmas and connections to other celebrations and festivals during this period, but I tend not to think too much about December until it’s here. Perhaps it’s this delayed gratification and a mindful awareness of presence over presents, along with a continued practice of traditions that have meaning for me and those close to me, which has helped me engage with a month that some might experience as overwhelming. There are many wonderful experiences to be enjoyed rather than indulge in, and it’s now that I will mark in my diary, the days to spend with friends and family for the coming weeks. But it’s also been on my mind, how at this time of year, conflicts of interest affect us much more acutely, despite probably having being navigated fairly well in the eleven months previous.
Ethical dilemmas present as an intrinsic part of everyday work for us therapists and others working in health and social care. Practitioners are constantly considering how to meet the needs of clients or patients, whilst adhering to standards and procedures expected of their profession that can sometimes feel at odds. Recent visits to a care home where my father is temporarily residing, evoke a feeling of uncertainty and security conversely. The trust we hold in institutions and organisations to help us look after ourselves, can also leave us feeling disempowered and infantile; regaining a sense of control can be exhausting.
As parents we meet conflicts of interest every day. It starts in the womb. Being pregnant is not always conducive to some of the activities that women continue to enjoy after conceiving. Trampolining for instance, and how many women stop eating cheese or sushi? Ok, not huge sacrifices, but we make these kinds of changes and more, because what’s in our interest, may not be in our children’s and vice versa. Those with children at nurseries, childminders or school, will no doubt have explored the role the institution has on theirs and their children’s lives and futures. When we consider social interaction, school often sees more of our children than we do, and yet we have a responsibility to get to know our child, to understand their personality, so we can help them to develop relationships in a healthy way, in and out of the school playground. What happens then, when our child is not making friends; how do we impact the awareness of teachers and other educators to see our child as we do? What about the other children in their care? For them it’s not all about our child, and yet for us it is.
So is it any wonder then that during December, as consumerism consumes while gifts are gathered, that the month becomes laden with expectation? For some the contemplation of family gatherings, offer an opportunity for merriment and joy that add to the mounting excitement (or is that nervousness?), once school breaks up and the Christmas parties have been dutifully attended. With halls decked in glitter and green, preparations for gargantuan feasts that bring a sense of nearing apocalypse to supermarket shelves, can trigger stresses in the season of goodwill that seem to defeat the object entirely.
With so many multi-faceted families in our community, there are conundrums aplenty at this time of year. Which in-laws are getting the pleasure to host, how far will you travel and when, are you hiding from the ones that always want to do the things you don’t, or perhaps it’s your turn to have everyone at yours? For those raised in separated households there may be the memory of the alternating Christmas, which could now mean more than two sets of parents to consider. For those in disparate family setups themselves, the merest notion of not being with children for part of the festivities can bring about a multitude of feelings, despite the knowledge that the children themselves might even feel they are getting two Christmases.
So how do we infuse some ‘ho ho ho’, rather than ‘bah humbug’ into the month whose flower narcissus symbolises good wishes, faithfulness and respect? I find it helpful to revisit the true meaning of Christmas and consider those for who conflicts of interest means no interest at all. This doesn’t have to mean bible study and a trip to Bethlehem, but when shopping for socks, chocs and smellies, it’s easier to sing along to the ubiquitous sounds of Shane, Kirsty, Slade, et al, having taken the space to offer myself compassion for everything I’ve met until this twelfth month, and do it with a genuine feeling of hope for a peaceful end to the year.
Perhaps you are have found yourself in an incongruent Christmas, where you compromise on the festivities you’d like, to please an elderly relative, unbending parent or ex-partner. Were you able to find some way to have your needs met, and how did you do it?
How many of you have taken a systemic approach and created a new set of traditions, from the two or more worlds you’ve brought together?
Or maybe you’re more pluralistic and your home amalgamates a variety of festivals from different cultures?
Whatever the season brings, I wish you love and laughter.