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In this article mentor Steven* reflects on the stress the festive period can put on family relationships and speaks about what he really wanted as a child for Christmas. Steven has a score of nine out of ten on the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) scale. ACEs include both emotional and physical abuse.

As Christmas approaches I want to speak about the poverty I experienced as a young child. Not the poverty of resources such as no money, no food, or the stuff we normally associate with poverty. But the poverty of non-stressed relationships.

Healthy relationships with safe, nurturing adults are crucial for children. However at Christmas we seem to forget this under the massive weight of expectation we impose on ourselves in the pursuit of stuff. Yes, it’s just stuff! Stuff that can always be replaced, and yet this stuff has more importance placed on it than tending to the relationship with ourselves and our relationships with others.

My family placed so much emphasis on stuff as an expression of love and maintaining their image, they forgot the fundamental joy of Christmas is about the value of family connection and safety. 

My lasting memory of Christmas is a living room in disarray, the house smelling of alcohol and tobacco smoke, and a tree crushed into the corner with the lights still on after a family fight.

The worst part of it all if you asked most people what they got for Christmas as a seven year old child they won’t remember any of the gifts. The high levels of stress in a family home at Christmas are what often shapes our lasting memories of childhood.

How many times have we thrown money at the Christmas problem and wondered why it’s never fixed? The reason is because it’s a poverty of nurturing relationships that’s lacking in some family homes at Christmas, not resources. We are drowning in resources yet starving for relationship. We don’t know how to be in a room with people anymore, children are left more and more to themselves. Escaping human connection by video games, phones, television. Everyone is stuck to the latest gadgets, connected to the internet yet disconnected from each other. We do it in the name of an easy life, our kids want for nothing, but it devalues human connection. Love is measured in materialism, the worship of things. 

We couldn’t survive as a species if it wasn’t for our resilience, but to build resilience children need emotionally available non-stressed caregiving. At greatest risk are the children who suffer this poverty of relationship and connection. Not because their parents don’t love them, but because the parents have bought into society’s expectations, the materialistic rat race. The price we pay is the inability to provide a safe, non-stressed, emotionally-available and secure environment because the pursuit of gifts has become more important than the spirit of Christmas.

The diversion from human connection and relationships is glaring in modern society. That’s the greatest poverty I know of. 

All I really wanted for Christmas when I was seven was to be needed, wanted, and loved. That would have cost nothing.


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