When the news about the tougher Tier 4 restrictions began to spread on Saturday afternoon, I was opening a letter from my mother inviting me home for Christmas.
My heart sank, as I would rather she didn’t contact me at all.
It had been sent in late November, to the alternative address I’d given her when I cut all contact in February, hence my delay in receiving it.
Even without the pandemic, going home for Christmas is the last thing I’d be doing.
The new restrictions made me feel anxious and worried about the state of the crisis in the UK, even if they didn’t change my plans personally.
But I also felt further relief knowing I wouldn’t be expected home – and that I wouldn’t be alone in spending Christmas on my own.
According to estrangement charity Stand Alone, more than 5million people in the UK have decided to cut contact with at least one family member, and 55% of estranged people felt more alone during the pandemic than they would have otherwise.
Although 2020 has been a tough year for everyone, those estranged from their families have faced some unique challenges. Some may have had unwanted contact from relatives checking in, and we were all bombarded with constant reminders to stay at home – with the family we don’t have.
Not only did this make me feel even more alone, but it made me feel guilty for cutting contact, even though I knew it was the right decision.
But there were also some unexpected benefits. Days like Mother’s Day could not be celebrated as normal, so my social media feed wasn’t inundated with posts about great mother-daughter relationships.
Christmas is arguably the hardest time of the year for estranged people, with pressure to ‘go home’ at its highest. Every advert is about happy families, or the misery of celebrating Christmas alone.
But this Christmas, the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for me and, I imagine, many other estranged adult children. Although I have been ‘officially’ estranged from my mother since February, our relationship has been difficult since I was a teenager.
A few years ago, I resolved to never spend Christmas with her again, so last year I flew to Australia to see my cousins so I didn’t have to go home. Despite being on the other side of the world, I still struggled with difficult memories of Christmases past and found it hard to enjoy the day.
I’m not sure if my mum knew the reason why I decided to go to Australia, but she still insisted on phoning me and checking in with me on the day, which I found difficult to deal with.
Thankfully I am not estranged from my dad and half-sisters, and always have the option of spending future Christmases with them, although they are still in touch with my mother.
Even before Saturday’s announcement, Christmas was going to be different for most people, estranged or not. But now, many will spend Christmas on their own for the first time, whether they are single or have their own family.
I live alone in Edinburgh and so this will be both my first Christmas estranged and my first Christmas on my own – but I’m looking forward to it.
The fact there are a lot of others in the same boat means I feel less alone, and there will be fewer social media posts of big family gatherings over Christmas.
Social media plays a big part in how I feel about my own situation. It almost always leaves me feeling worse.
Now that Christmas has been ‘cancelled, any remaining pressure to ‘go home’ has dissipated, regardless of where you are in the country. For many it was a tough decision, to travel or face spending Christmas alone.
I have completely avoided this dilemma, as my plans haven’t changed at all, and I won’t feel the guilt that some may do after travelling across the country.
I struggled a lot at the start of the pandemic, newly estranged, when many of my friends packed up and went to their parents’ homes for an indefinite period of time for lockdown.
It hurt, because I knew I didn’t have that home to return to in an emergency. But this year, I managed to buy my own flat and am in the process of building that home for myself. I also adopted a cat (called Cheeky), who helped me to feel safe, secure and settled.
As a result of being estranged, I developed a network of friends through Stand Alone. I attended a number of Zoom support groups over spring and summer, and formed a group with other women who are estranged from their parents or siblings.
We have a WhatsApp group that we use regularly, and we Zoom at least once a month. We have arranged a quick catch-up for Christmas Day so we can check in with each other, which will be nice. The support has helped me immensely.
Although many are upset and heartbroken by the news yesterday, every cloud has a silver lining. There will be someone out there, in a Tier 4 area, who is breathing a sigh of relief that they don’t have to go and spend Christmas with their family.
For me, the pandemic has taken the pressure off re-entering a difficult family situations just for the sake of Christmas.
Spending it on my own with my little cat, with nobody even questioning it due to the pandemic, is something I am very grateful for after a tough year.
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