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Sunday, December 22, 2019

To the woman in the shelter this Christmas

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If you celebrate the holiday, you likely spend the first few moments after waking on Christmas morning basking in the glow of your memories and traditions. But what if, after consciousness fully returns, you suddenly remember that you are waking up in a women’s shelter? Maybe your children are tucked safely into bed beside you, or lying on spare mattresses on the floor. They likely didn’t sleep well. You didn’t either. Your wee ones are a bit frightened, uncomfortable and stressed. You are worried that one of them is coming down with a cold. You are worried about many things. What will Christmas morning feel like to you?

Most moms who have had to take their children to a shelter any time of year will express a feeling of guilt, and possibly shame. Maybe you think you are ruining Christmas for your kids, because they won’t have the usual decorations, celebrations, food and gifts that they normally have at home this time of year. Likely you are hoping that your children are too young to remember this Christmas. Next year will be better, and this year and every year before it will fade into a distant, cloudy history.

But maybe Christmas hasn’t been that fun the last few years, anyway. If you are in a Violence Against Women (VAW) shelter, you are likely there because your situation developed to a point where you just couldn’t take it anymore. You made a very brave and very difficult decision to leave your home with very little other than the layers of clothing on your backs during this brutal season. You left everything else behind. You probably didn’t have control over your money – if you were making any money to begin with. You likely put this decision off for months, and maybe years, because you didn’t have the financial support for a new beginning. Your poverty kept you trapped in your situation. But then something happened that made you realize you just had to leave. The women’s shelter was your last resort. What will Christmas be like for you and your kids this year?

Hopefully, the shelter has connections with a local church, charity or The Salvation Army, so your children will receive a gift on Christmas morning. Depending on your own individual situation, maybe it will be one of the better Christmases in their memory, because they will feel safe for the first time in years. The environment will be calm and cozy, they will be warm and well-fed and you will be able to focus your energies on spending time together rather than just surviving.

But what about you, the woman in the shelter? What is Christmas going to be like for you? My hope for you is that this time of year, rather than feeling like a loss or a failure, you will realize the incredible thing you have just done. You are amazing, powerful and wise. You have done the right thing. Give yourself the gift of Hope. Make a commitment to yourself to make the right decisions for you and your family now, so that you will have a good future. You have already taken the first step. Good for you. That took a great deal of courage and strength.

You are likely emotionally and physically exhausted, because it is difficult to sleep in a new bed, when you are surrounded by strangers and thoughts of an uncertain future. This is your time to meditate on 2020 and what it will mean for you. First, you need to make sure you are safe. Make use of the resources available to you through the shelter to ensure you and your children can get up and go to school or work each morning without worrying about dealing with anyone who is harmful, controlling, abusive or manipulative. This is your life. You get to choose who you let into it now.
Surround yourself with positive people who believe in and support your decisions. You have the right to avoid or eliminate interactions with people who represent an unhealthy relationship for you and your kids.

I will be filling a bag with new socks, underwear, pajamas, toiletries, and a few things for you and the kids, so you will have something that is completely new on Christmas morning. I will be thinking of you. You can do this. I believe in you.
Merry Christmas.