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Having a child in a therapeutic placement is difficult any time of the year but the holiday season presents special challenges. There is a plethora of emotions parents feel and you may feel one or feel them all. Just know that either way, you are normal. Do you feel guilty that you sent them away at a time they will be missing holiday traditions? Do you feel relieved that you might actually get a peaceful holiday season while they are in treatment? Do you feel guilty that you feel relieved? Do you feel despair and fear that your child might not forgive you? Do you want to skip this holiday season and hide away to not celebrate at all? Do you fear questions or reaction from extended family? First, no matter what you feel, you are not alone! Here are some tips on how to handle these conflicting, warring emotions.

Seek to Understand:
As a wilderness program, we are seeking to understand how each of our students/families celebrate their holidays. Please let your primary therapist know if there is a specific holiday(s) that means a lot and we will do our best to make space for that celebration in the woods. We celebrate diversity and learning from one another. However, we do not make these holidays about presents… instead, we make them about presence! We discuss cultures, traditions, and celebrate each other’s unique beliefs and customs. We share food, that your child will help to create, and stories and time together. Your child will have a memorable holiday where they feel heard and appreciated… no misery found here!

It may sound cliché but there is evidence to why it works. When we engage in things help to rejuvenate, relax, and breathe it is much easier to be in the present and not at the mercy of our fears and worries. The last thing we want to do is focus on ourselves and it is usually the first thing we need to do. Another cliché coming your way… you can’t fill others’ cups if your is empty. Stop and imagine that for a moment. Think of carrying a pitcher around a table and going through the emotions of pouring but nothing is coming out. That just adds to the frustration and list of emotions! So, take time to fill your cup or pitcher! How? If you do not know what self-care is or what examples look like… you must find what works for you! Do something that gives you energy and makes you happy/calm/refueled each day. Here are some articles that can steer you in the right direction: Self-Care – Active Minds; A Self-Care Action Plan (video); 50 Ways to Do Self-Care

Feel your feelings:
It is ok to be sad. It is ok to grieve your child being gone. It is ok to feel whatever it is you feel about the holidays coming up and the fact that they will look different. I suggest speaking to others who are experiencing the same thing. Jump on that Tuesday parent group call or that social media parent group that you enjoy. Connect with others and talk about your experience and listen to how others are getting through it or have gone through it. I encourage you to journal about your emotions and identify healthy coping mechanisms to deal with them. Practice those feeling statements that your child is learning in the woods. Breathing techniques and practices like meditation are useful to calm these emotions as well.

Quite literally, you are giving your child the most impactful gift of their lives. You are giving them a program that will help them grow in emotional intelligence and resilience in how to navigate this difficult world. Further, though you may not be spending this holiday with your child, you are investing in healthier future holidays with your child. And lastly, your child will be having a unique holiday experience that will be forever remembered. Write them a letter describing how you feel. Validate and reflect how your child feels about not being home for the holidays (remember that validation does not equal agreement). Discuss the self-care, reframing, and boundaries you are setting for yourself during the holiday season to role model healthy change.

Embrace it:
Acknowledge that the holiday will feel and look different… embrace that. Maybe this is the year you shake things up and go on a cruise for the holiday. Maybe you do not want to attend that huge family gathering so you opt for a smaller celebration instead (or vice versa!). Do you have family members who make things harder? Maybe set a boundary around particular discussions prior to agreeing to attend the celebration. Whether you double down and put up twice as many decorations or skip the décor all together… do what makes you happy. Embrace the holiday as different and decide which expectations to hold to and which to let go. This might just be the holiday season that volunteering is the answer… get out of your own circumstance and help others with theirs. This can give perspective and joy in the hardest of times. The most important piece is to make this holiday season one of healing and growth.

Reach out:
If you find yourself struggling. Reach out! Reach out to your FLW primary therapist, family therapist, friend, your home therapist, or others who are in the same situation. Do not suffer alone if you are struggling to move past difficult feelings, thoughts, etc. We are here to help.

Contact First Light Wilderness Therapy Today