• Ask the therapist: Holiday Edition


    The winter holiday season is upon us. For many, this is a time of joy, cheer, togetherness, and (let’s face it) a healthy dose of chaos. For others of us, it can feel like everyone else is experiencing abundance while we’re stuck in a place of grief, hopelessness, loneliness, or other forms of scarcity.

    This month, we asked you on social media what you wanted to discuss or need help with at this particular time. We’re pleased to say we got a number of thoughtful responses! So here you go, our answers to your questions. We sincerely hope they offer what you’re needing.



    Q: “The profound mental toll maternal gate keeping takes on fathers especially around the holidays and how it leads to hopelessness and sometimes even a crisis of faith.”

    A: In a world where the mother does seem to get more rights, it can be very lonely for dad’s during the holidays. “Maternal gatekeeping” is somewhat of a new term and it means the mom serving as the ultimate gatekeeping for anything related to your child. For example, a mother can tell the father how to put a child’s diaper on “the right way” and not support the importance of the father’s role with his children.

    This can lead to hopelessness around the holidays for fathers who experience this. It’s important for dads to have a safe place to talk, process and feel their feelings around this. If these unprocessed feelings don’t have a place to come out, bitterness and resentment can build besides the loneliness. For these dad’s, find someone safe to talk to and don’t hold back. However, you also want to find someone who will give you sound wisdom and not just complain with you. There is a difference. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel and then identify clear solutions you can do.

    Take time throughout the year to have one-on-one times with each of your children, so you build that connection and relationship with just them. As you spend time with your children, be mindful of just being with them. Don’t allow the “maternal gatekeeping” to stop you from being the amazing dad that you are. Know that no matter what a mother might try to keep from you, she is not the father and the father’s role is critical to a child’s development. Hold strong to key memories and times where you know your parenting was impacting your child in a positive manner. If you give the mother money for a gift and she gets the benefit of seeing the child open the gift, allow yourself to meditate on the joy of the child with the gift – do not focus on the maternal gatekeeping behavior. This may feel impossible sometimes, but if you don’t have a choice in the matter, make the choice that will benefit you and your children, not your frustration or anger. Again, you are valid in whatever you are feeling. You are stronger than you realize and more important that you are getting credit for.

    Reference: https://www.thebump.com/a/maternal-gatekeeping



    Q: “What is your advice or tips for dealing with grief and loss during the holidays? And grappling with those feelings when everyone else seems happy?”

    A: When you find yourself struggling with sadness and grief during the holidays, give yourself some space and permission to feel those feelings. Find a time and place to let them out. For example, meet with a close friend to share your heart and how hard it is for you, or perhaps you could take some time and journal. Don’t hide those feelings. You are okay to have them and they are meant to come out. When it’s time for the festivities, give yourself permission to enjoy them. It’s almost like drawers that we open and close. Give yourself to open the drawer of grief, feel it, then close it. Access the drawer of celebration, enjoy it, then close it again.



    Q: What is unconditional love supposed to look like? How do we handle when it creates pressure/expectations?

    A: Unconditional love is something that we all desire but don’t always know what it is or how to show. If you haven’t had someone love you unconditionally, it will be hard for you to give it to others. First off – the meaning of it is: showing affection and love for someone no matter their actions, behaviors or personality. When we show unconditional love towards people in our life during the holidays, it means giving them a hug and comfort them if they just lost their job, it means letting them have their opinions without arguing back with them, it means loving someone even though you are the recipient of their pain. Unconditionally love does not mean you don’t have boundaries with people who hurt you or have hurt you. It’s important that you have people in your life who are regularly pouring love into you so you can be filled with confidence of who you truly are. This allows you to have a full bucket of love to give it out to those who may be harder to love during the holidays.



    Q: What are some tips/techniques to reground ourselves and prevent debilitating stress levels during the holidays? How can we do this preventatively as well as once triggered?

    A: During holiday times where stressors seem to be higher, it’s important to have self-awareness of this and take steps for yourself because of this. Pay attention to the physical signs that stress has increased – perhaps increased heart-rate repeatedly, maybe you haven’t been going to the gym when you normally do, perhaps you are yelling at your kids more. Notice any changes where stress has creeped in. Acknowledge that you are in a bit more stress than usual and give yourself permission to just “feel stressed”. Sit in it and just focus on your breathing. Ask yourself what actions you can take that decrease your stress and do those things.

    Here is a list of possible techniques to de-stress and focus on self-care:

    • Exercise or move your body somehow
    • Practice your spirituality
    • Schedule time with loved ones
    • Eliminate something from your schedule
    • Do something enjoyable
    • Guided imagery – find something online that connect with you
    • Put your phone down for a period of time


    Q: How can we maintain our own version of health, happiness, and family when this season is overwhelmed by media, etc of what those “should” look like? There are so many expectations!

    A: Be open to finding joy in different ways. We are such creatures of habit and keep doing what you’ve known. Try going to a new light show, go to a play, or shop at a different website or mall. Do something different even though it might feel a little uncomfortable. Set personal boundaries and don’t apologize for it. This means recognizing what you need and say no where you need to say no.



    Q: How can I remember to be grateful during this season that demands so much of me?

    A: Gratitude is one of the most impactful and resourceful tool we can use every day all the time. Practice behind grateful during moments you don’t feel like it. In his book The Light in the Heart, Roy T Bennet says “Great things happen to those who don’t stop believing, trying, learning, and being grateful.”

    Check back to our November blog for more tips on gratitude!


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