Historically, police and emergency services will tell you that they always expect a peak in reports of domestic violence incidents over the Christmas period. In 2017, a Victoria Police official indicated that they normally expect to receive around 1000 additional reports compared to the middle of the year. Counselling service 1800RESPECT states that the number of calls they receive for support on domestic violence incidents raises by ¼ during December compared to the previous months. Experts from organisations all over the world will tend to agree that the Christmas period accounts for the highest rates of incidents compared to other months of the year. So what is it about Christmas and the holiday season that causes these spikes?
It would come as no surprise that in general alcohol and drug consumption increases over the holiday period. There are end of work Christmas parties, get togethers with family and friends and the celebration that a year has come to a close. People like to let loose after a long year of working and often it involves at the very least alcohol. When people are on holidays and don’t have to work the next day, it means they can drink more. Some like to drink during the day when they would normally be at work. It’s holidays so they feel it is OK. Higher alcohol and or drug consumption is a big trigger for an incident. A lot of domestic violence survivors will tell you that their partners behaviour was worse when they were under the influence.
Christmas and the holiday period can be extremely stressful. You have to come up with a lot of money to meet the expectation of a ‘perfect family christmas’. If you have children, it can be a particularly stressful and expensive time because you want to give your children the best. If you are struggling to make ends meet on a normal week, Christmas is an added pressure. It may mean during the holidays you have to reunite with family members you don’t get a long with. Perhaps you want to put on an image that all is well within your family and that you are the picture perfect family. The stress of pretending can be overwhelming and may feel the need to 'bring your family into line'. When you add stress or financial pressure to a family that is already suffering from domestic violence, these new stresses and pressures can escalate the violence. Families who are no longer together are not immune to this time of year either. Some partners refuse to pay child support or cover expenses so close to the Christmas period as a form of manipulation. There may be competition over who gets the best presents. Then of course there are the custody arrangements over the Christmas period. This can push some people over the edge. Also remembering the fact that even if a person has previously left a violent relationship, having to reunite during the holidays can cause extra stress and anxiety.
It is a period where it is quite common for both partners to take holidays. Kids are off from school, and often it is the most time that a family will spend together compared to the rest of the year under the same roof. Some members of the family may feel that they have to be extra careful and walk on eggshells around their partner during this time. Their partner may be extra controlling and dominating wanting to control situations and their space. Some may even stop their families from seeing friends or other family members or their families may feel unwelcome due to the tension in the household. It can become isolating. Most of us look forward to the Xmas break after a busy year. With an ever-growing list of tasks to accomplish each day, it’s easy to let time with your partner and children slip down your priorities. In the Heavy M.E.T.A.L Program we spend the last session of the year with our participants brainstorming ideas on how we can make this the best Christmas for our family. One thing us men often forget is that our loved ones are also looking forward to the holiday period so that they can spend time with us. We tend not consider our family having expectations and plans of what they would like to do with us. They want to make the best of being with us while we are home,, however this can conflict with what we may have been planning or expecting to do.
It is also a time of year when things can become tense around Christmas day, New Years and summer holidays. Plans for separated families are negotiated and implemented adding to the stress. Christmas should be a happy time. A time when families get together to swap presents and stories, share meals and homes and enjoy each other’s company. But for some families with separated parents Christmas can be a time of sadness, disappointment and disagreement and often children are caught in the middle.
This is often because some parents put such a big focus on having to have the children on Christmas Day. The focus then becomes a power struggle (see our previous article about the importance of equal relationships) between the separated parents. Who is going to have the children on the 25th December? Often when this happens conflict arises which then has a negative impact on the children. Parents caught up in this power struggle underestimate the impact has on their children.
Make Christmas time a happy childhood memory. One of the most important issues for children’s mental health is not to be exposed to disputes between their parents. Exposing a child to family violence is a form of abuse, regardless of whether the child is a target of such violence or not.
Christmas is meant to be a magical time for children. At Heavy METAL we encourage participants to let go of the Power and Control and put their differences with their ex-partner on the shelf during this period and give their children an amazing Xmas no matter what day it is. What does it matter whether it’s the 25th Dec or the 26th or 27th ? It is only a day. Whatever day you can spend with your kids, you make that day your own special Christmas day. You can make it a magical day which the kids will not forget. In fact; it should not be for a day that you aim to make each day special. It should be every day.
Regardless of what has happened between you and the other parent, it is important not to criticise the other parent when talking to the children.
You need to accept that your children love the other parent, and the relationship that they have with that parent must be protected. By criticising the other parent, you can create tension for your children because then they want to please you and agree with you but at the same time, they still love the other parent.
A counselor can offer helpful advice on how to cope with difficult relationships. Remember Men’s Line is a 24/7 support service for Men and Safer Steps is a 24/7 support service for women. (Click for numbers of support services)
A communication book may be a helpful tool if you cannot communicate effectively. You could also communicate via text and email – whatever method is chosen; the aim is to shield your kids from the conflict between yourself and the other parent to prevent what sometimes can be irreversible harm caused to your child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing. (See our article about how family violence affects children) Another tip here is not to get caught up in the text warfare, keep the communication “business like” focused about the children. Do not make personal attacks, do not bring up other issues. Be polite and keep the conversation child focused.
- Make sure both parents know about any Christmas plays, concerts or activities coming up and that they can attend.
- Involve the children in plan making: What would the children prefer to happen on Christmas day? Is splitting the Christmas day in half what the children would likely prefer? Or would they be happier not to travel on Christmas day – instead spending Christmas with one parent one year and Christmas with the other parent the next year? Would the children be excited to see both parents, grandparents or other people who are important to them on Christmas day?
- If you have your children on Christmas day, encourage them to have meaningful contact with the other parent through the course of the day via Skype, Facetime or by phone
- Give thought to allowing the children to take some of their gifts to the other parent’s home and help support them find a gift they can give to the other parent.
Why is there so much stress on being with loved ones? Besides lengthening lives, spending time with family has other benefits:
1. Builds Self-Esteem
Children who spend quality time with their loved ones generally have self-confidence. They are more sociable because they sense that their parents value them. Kids with self-esteem find it easy to build relationships.
2. Creates bonds.
Spending time with family strengthens family ties. Families who enjoy group activities will develop strong relationships and handle stressful situations with ease. In this busy day and age, it is a luxury for parents to spend time with their children. Making time for the family will allow you to teach your kids valuable life lessons like kindness and fairness.
3. Nurtures Positive Behaviour
Consequently, kids will start to develop positive behaviours because loved ones influence them. Research has shown that children who ate regular meals with their families performed better in school. Furthermore, adolescents who spent more time with their parents tend not to abuse alcohol. This is a great opportunity for you to display role model positive behaviour by being responsible with alcohol yourself. Maybe ask yourself: Do I need another drink? Do I need a drink now? Maybe have that drink later in the day rather than early. Do not use; “ I am on holidays I deserve it” particularly if there have been past issues around your anger when you do drink. (Remember to be a role model)
4. Creates memories
Another reason for having family time is to make memories. Children share more about their lives in these situations. Why not ask them ‘What happened in school today? It can start conversations.
5. Healthy Lifestyle
Your lifestyle will become healthier than before. Family members will remind you to have nutritious meals. As mentioned above, maybe consider postponing that next drink.
Make it a point to spend time with your kids. You do not need to go out of your way. Sit down for dinner so you can have family conversations. Going out with them for walks after dinner or a game of cricket in the backyard will allow you to teach them life lessons. Children love fixing broken items. These may seem like tedious tasks, but curious kids love them. They want to see what lies under the faulty kitchen sink. Ask them to give you a hand without making it sound like a chore. Its about having fun and finding ways to spend time together. Read together with your kids. Besides improving their language skills, you can use the time to share sound values with them. If you are in a situation where you struggle for time due to work or the kids are with their other parent send them a text message and let them know you are thinking about them.
Growing teens often feel that their parents step over their boundaries. But all is not lost. Take the time to talk to your teenagers while driving them somewhere. It is convenient and allows them to share the goings-on in their lives. Another way to connect with them is through social media. Have chats with them over the social media app they are into e.g. “Whats app” and step into their lives. It is the way they make sense of the modern world around them. Teens may go through growing pains and can be a handful. That said, they love to volunteer. Getting them to do volunteer work allows them to make a difference. It also lets you spend quality time with them.
Don’t forget your parents; elderly parents feel lonely too. If you do not live with your parents, give them a call. Doing this takes no time at all. It is always special for a parent to get a call from a child. Plan to have a meal with them; invite them over or go and visit with the kids and offer to cook a meal for them.
Your spouse is the most important person in your life. If you cannot be with them due to circumstances, try and keep in touch with him or her with a few text messages throughout the day and turn your mobile phone off when you are alone with him/her. A great routine to get into is to try and start the day together is by either having breakfast or a quick cup of coffee together. Another great way to spend time with your spouse without taxing yourselves is to exercise together. Having a nightly jog or walking in the park is a wonderful way to spend quality time with your significant other. These suggestions are about making time to connect with your partner.
Remember the aunts and uncles who may annoy you? Or the in-laws you try and avoid. Spending time with them may help you more than you realize. It is equally important to support and encourage your spouse to see his/her family as well; despite your frustrations and dislikes. Put the negative judgments and the past on the shelf; this is about making a magical Christmas not just for the kids, but for the whole family. Spending time with family is important because it may benefit each member in more ways than you realize.
If you have suggestions on how to make it a wonderful family Christmas, do leave them in the comments on the Facebook page.
Please feel free to CONTACT US if you would like further advice
Please LIKE our Facebook page for regular updates www.facebook.com/heavymetalgroup