How to cope with and overcome family struggles this holiday season
My name is Keri Cheechoo and I am a Cree woman from Long Lake #58 First Nation. I am a daughter, mother, granddaughter, and a Gookum (grandmother in Cree). I practice relationality within all of these roles, but treasure the roles of mother and Gookum best.
My husband and I relocated to Ottawa in 2015 because I became a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. Typically, we travel to Thunder Bay to enjoy our holidays with our children and grandchildren. This holiday season is providing a particular tension for me, because two of my children have also relocated to Ottawa to pursue their post-secondary education.
I am experiencing what I have come to term (re)rootedness, because they will be staying in Ottawa for the holiday season. As their mom, I am rooted and a bifurcation has recently been enacted—I am torn. Do I travel to see three children, and grandchildren in Thunder Bay? Do I stay with two children here in Ottawa?
Because of my historical legacy of having family members who have attended Indian Residential Schools, this sense of “leaving my children behind” impacts me tremendously. I have been putting in the hard work of deconstructing intergenerational trauma and its subsequent aftermath of parental disconnection. I have also been examining these effects and their relationality to my parenting and me.
I refuse to infantilize my children, or reduce their agency because I feel dislocated—nor will I perpetuate disconnectedness simply because I know no other way to parent, because I do. Conversation, reflection, and writing poetry continue to help me navigate this space of (re)rootedness, and I am confident that I will move forward in a good way. Meegwetch.
—Keri Cheechoo, Fulcrum Contributor.
Try to share happy moments, even without family
The holiday season can be difficult for international students. My experience on this subject is quite varied. Thus, during the holiday season, depending on the circumstances I had the chance to return to my country or to receive the visit of my parents in Ottawa.
Despite the joy of seeing my family again and having these moments of sharing with them, I always thought about the moment when we would have to leave each other. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula—the most important thing to remember is to make the most of each moment.
On other occasions, I had to spend the holidays far from my family. The hardest part for me then was to accept that I was far from everything I knew and that I had to celebrate the holidays otherwise. You only realize in those moments how important it is to have a good circle of friends, especially as an international student. My friends have become my second family. We try to find interesting activities to do together like sharing a meal, admiring the fireworks after the New Year’s countdown, or learn Canadian customs during the holiday season. The main goal is to share happy moments even if we missed our families.
—Kignonh Madina Noemi Soro, Fulcrum Contributor.
When life gets in the way
Whenever I ask people what their plans are for the holidays, most of them respond by saying they are going home to their families after being away from them for a long time. I, on the other hand, live with my family so I spend almost everyday with them. However, we’re not all together at the same time.
Last Christmas, we were able to spend time together as things started to slow down towards the end of the year. We took a drive down to Parliament Hill to experience the spectacular Sound & Lights Show and captured a family photo in the peak of winter. That was last year.
This year, however, our lives have become a bit more hectic. My sister and I are in school and working part-time on weekends. My mom also took on a full-time job while raising my three year-old brother. My dad works out of town and spends about three to four days at home, during which he spends time with my brother.
Since things have picked up from last year, we barely get time to all get together and catch up on our busy lives.
Even though my dad is taking about two weeks off for this holiday season, it is probable that we are all going to be working leading up to Christmas. My hope for this holiday season is that if we can find a way (even it’s for one day) that we gather around the table admiring my mom’s impeccable cooking skills, of course, as well as bidding adieu to 2017 and commemorating the New Year.
—Erika Farr, Fulcrum Contributor.
Family fractures—scrambling to pick up the pieces
For the most part, I absolutely love the opportunity I have to visit my entire family over the holidays. However, as much as I cherish these annual gatherings, they also tend to leave me anxious and frustrated.
My dad is stubborn, and this isn’t a problem in itself. However, he carries a lot of resentment towards his parents for what he sees as a lack of presence in his life growing up. Rather than forgive their mistakes, he chooses to harbour bad blood and isolate himself—and my immediate family by extension—from this side of our family.
On the other end of things, my grandparents on his side often don’t understand what they’ve done to deserve this. And I, holding a strong bond with them, am often questioned about it and thrown in the middle of this decades-long debacle. I want more than anything for them to reconcile, but when I get into a cycle of anxiety about my inability to fix the situation, it’s extremely helpful for me to remind myself that their turbulent relationship is not my fault nor responsibility, and focus on the elements of the situations I can change.
For example, bringing up projects that my dad is working on while in the room with him and his parents is a good way to spark conversation, and give him an opportunity to share more of his life with them. It may not be moving mountains, but simply taking an interest in the lives of your family members while at gatherings can by extension spark interest from others in attendance, no matter what their history.
Even if this technique doesn’t work, above all, please remember that it is not your job to fix your family, and that you’re an incredible person for even trying.
—Kara West, Fulcrum Contributor.
My parents divorced when I was 11, and I honestly believe my family should be an advertising campaign for why more people should get divorced. Suffice it to say, there has been an incredibly, positive shift from the first 11 years of my life to the last 11 years.
However, there are some areas that can still be difficult to navigate, namely vacations, birthdays, special occasions, and oh yes, the holidays. I find around this time of year, past grievances seem to come up more often, and it’s hard to plan the few weeks I have at home without hurting anyone else’s feelings.
The worst part is, that now that my siblings and I are adults, my parents know that where we choose to spend our time is completely our decision, not based on their divorce agreement. That also means where we don’t want to be is our decision too. While this can be a great time of year, I always feel a lurking anxiety that I won’t be able to to navigate the holidays without hurting someone’s feelings.
—Emerson King, Fulcrum Contributor.
Note: Some contributors have chosen to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of this article.