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“Christmas is not a date. It is a state of mind.”  – Mary Ellen Chase

I like this quote. If you look up state of mind in various dictionaries you’ll find that is broadly defined as your mood, your thoughts and feelings at the present time. Or ‘a temporary psychological state’ according to the Free Dictionary online.

If Christmas looms as a painful reminder of separation, rejection and loss, we can take hope from this quote. Firstly, because our state of mind is ephemeral – our thoughts and feelings come and go, just as Christmas will come and go. We can think and feel, understanding that this mood and this moment in time will pass. But also because we can remind ourselves that we have a choice when it comes to living with the challenging times. We can hunker down and wait it out when our energy is low – sometimes this is the best we can do at that moment. We could also decide that we will take some healthy, restorative action to try to lift our mood. Reading a good book, having a walk, massage or a long overdue declutter. As midwinter approaches for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, making sure we have time outside in the daylight is important to help boost our mood and guard against Seasonal Affective Disorder . Consider buying a SAD light if you notice a dip in mood at this time of year.

Whether you are estranged, not with your children on Christmas day this year or are experiencing strong or painful feelings about being apart as the end of the year approaches, here are my don’t and do suggestions for the festive period.

 Don’t make any important decisions during this intense time. Christmas can feel a bit like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering weight and intensity as the 25 December approaches. If we see Christmas as a state of mind instead of the myth of fairytale happy families, we can avoid knee jerk decisions based on what life ‘should’ be like at this time of year according supermarket, toy manufacturer, perfume, chocolate or electronic device advertisers. Put important decisions on ice until calm returns next year.

Don’t react from a place of strong emotions. As much as we can feel a sense of urgency to reply or express ourselves – stop, breathe, think. Don’t let a longing for how Christmas used to or should be, or an ex-partner’s provocation or insensitivity push you into saying or doing something you will later regret. Very few occasions are benefitted from a reaction that hasn’t been thought through. This is particularly true when it comes to expressing anger or responding to anger in others. For your sake, for the sake of your relationships with your children, wait until the heat of the moment passes.

Do remember, it’s not about getting it right – it’s about doing what feels right at the time. Many mothers apart tell me about the pressure they feel to get things right, as if one action will hold the magic key to maintaining or regaining their relationships with their children. The stress they put on themselves to fix things is enormous and often overwhelming. Having to get it right is an unrealistic expectation. Do what feels right and true at the time and then let go. We can’t know bigger picture, we can’t foresee the future and our child’s life is their journey, not ours. The way to feel at peace is to be honest with ourselves when it comes to our intensions, to be clear about our motives. And when we are not sure, see ‘Don’t react from a place of strong emotions’ above.

Do keep going. In the challenging times, when you are blindsided by happy family stories, tinsel decked trees and children’s toys, take the day one hour at time and just keep going. Bolster yourself with the Persian wise men quote, “this too, shall pass”. Or Winston Churchill’s “When you’re going through hell, keep going”. Or Rudyard Kipling’s IF “ If you can meet with triumph and disaster, And treat those two imposters just the same”.

Do live your life. Whether you have money to spend or not, there is one gift you can give yourself this Christmas and for the rest of your days – permission to live your life to the full. Permission to make yourself happy, search for what gives you meaning, enjoy pleasures big and small. Even if life is not how you would want it right now, live your life. We can’t change or control anyone other than ourselves, we barely exist when we try. Live your life for yourself, and for those who love you and want you to be happy.

I wish you ease and comfort this Christmas. A peaceful 2016 to you.

Take good care of yourself.


Sarah Hart


Sarah’s new self-help book: A Mother Apart

Support for women

Sarah specialises in counselling and training women. She helps non-resident mothers find inner peace by dealing with guilt, distress and other difficult feelings which can be experienced when living apart from their child. Her self-help book, 'A Mother Apart', published by Crown House, is available now. She also supports business women grow in confidence whilst growing their businesses. To find out more, please visit Sarah Hart's website

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