Bright Christmas lights. Festive music everywhere, telling us to feel jolly and get into the festive spirit – because it’s Christmas.
For many, it is a time of family gatherings and despite the past two year’s crisis management of almost all life situations, the Christmas feeling is felt in shops already.
People really want to feel “normal” again, and it is understandable that they are reaching towards a feeling of togetherness and belonging – the very things we have been denied these past two years.
There are however thousands who are without family. Some of them live on the street. Their experience of Christmas does not include lights and trees. Their biggest hope is to have food every day. Many others may well not be living on the street, but they do not know where to go since they do not have a family to be with. During the pandemic, many people have lost loved ones, whose empty seats will be difficult to cope with.
Money problems, financial stress, joblessness. 2021’s stressors are worse than that of 2020. There is still uncertainty, especially now with the new developments around the virus.
And many stand alone. Loneliness can affect anyone, even small children. Think of a single mom who has no family, who struggles to engender a Christmas feeling in her home. Small children especially are drawn to the trees, lights and gifts in the shops. And mom does not have a festive bone in her body. In fact, the stress of the holiday season may mean she really does not look forward to this time of year.
Against this backdrop, things can go wrong. Children who do not understand, become demanding. And mom feels guilty, too. Thus loneliness gets its claws into her. And smaller children feel it too, especially only children.
“Loneliness goes hand in hand with the lack of a normal feeling of belonging. Everyone is exposed to this. Parents can also use alcohol or drugs as a remedy for loneliness – with negative effects on the children. A parent who is under the influence cannot behave properly, and this is one contributor to family violence,” explains Ani Grobbelaar, social worker of CMR Gauteng Oos’ Lyttelton branch.
“Then, of course, there is the problem of parents working while the children are on holiday. Children left home alone without supervision causes their own problems. Older children go walking around and if you look for trouble, you will find it. Apart from the safety aspect, there is also boredom. No child can watch TV for 8 hours without becoming bored. They start looking for something to do, and drugs, alcohol, porn and online games easily fill this gap. Parents must do everything in their power to find alternatives to keep children from these bad influences.
“Not just violence but also child neglect increase during this time,” explains Henda van der Merwe, director of CMR Gauteng-Oos. “For us, there is no doubt that family violence will see a sharp increase in the coming weeks. At the end of two years of the global pandemic, we should not forget that the emotional toll of that still plays a role in families. Most people just want to forget that it happened, but we must remember that more than 30 % of our country’s people are jobless. The stress is bigger than in other years.
“The social workers in our organisation are confronted with much more than the need for food. Family support is of the utmost importance during the festive season,” she explains.
The question is how to handle it? There is no easy answer. “Stop. Think. How can what you do in the next 5 minutes, help another person through this period? Can a few minutes of your caring perhaps change his experience – and stop him from grabbing onto something to help him feel better. To care is to give – a few minutes could change a person’s life irrevocably,” Van der Merwe concludes.