Important days: a social myth?

Yesterday, I found myself celebrating Mother’s Day for the first time in 18 years on the same day as my home country. A heartfelt day as my mother isn’t there anymore. For the first time in my adult life, I would have been able to celebrate motherhood of my children and my mother on the same day…

Over the years, I have learnt to not attached so much importance to celebrating an important day on the same day. I always found some strategies to cope with not being there for Christmas, not being there for an important birthday. Over time, you build some resilience, you toughen up, find other activities to do as you are not visiting your own family, you build friendships with others in similar situations. This year, the social myth surrounding the need to celebrate Christmas on the same day as everyone, became even more meaningful. My husband became very ill and was hospitalised over the Christmas period. I had a particularly difficult decision to make, celebrating Christmas with him in the UK, allowing him to have Christmas all together, with our children, or flying to the Caribbean to meet my family as planned. Impossible dilemma…With reflection, it made sense to think that Christmas could be celebrated one week later…letting my husband recover in peace, letting the children have an amazing holiday with their cousins. Who decides that Christmas has to be absolutely celebrated on the 25th December? Isn’t the values and the spirit of the celebration that are more important?

Is it that important to celebrate THE day, on the same day as everyone else? The media attach so much importance on these days, and now social media sites bring a different dimension to it all…You see everyone posting about their experience of the day, it brings some feelings in you, you respond in your own way by posting your experience, by sharing how happy you are for others, or you let go completely, or switch off all devices…How to cope with all these feelings? There is also all the commercial side attached to all of it…you have to have a tree, you have to buy flowers, you have to buy chocolate and share these with your loved ones…what if your loved ones are hundred, thousand kilometres away…is it as meaningful then?

Visiting family on THE day is also affected by travelling abroad. Flight costs become completely and ridiculously unaffordable during special periods. Schools (in England) do not authorise holidays within the school term days. Councils have established a fine system for those who take children out of school within term days. There are also policies to increase attendance in schools as attendance is considered as being crucial to school attainment. As global citizens, you then become completely stuck between the dilemma of high cost flight fares, fines and penalising children’s education. As a parent, you then have the task to weigh this all up:

  • is it ok for the children to miss some days of school to access cheaper flight fares (against all odds as the system says you should not)?
  • is it ok to consider the family visit as equally educationally beneficial?
  • is it ok not to visit family at all?
  • is it ok to only visit when you have saved the high flight fares?
  • is it ok to think that children should maintain their cultural heritage and be part of the extended family for some special occasions?
  • will children’s education be penalised for non-attendance? could there be other arrangements made?
  • how often is it ok to take children out of school during term time?
  • how often can we really visit family to coincide with with our annual leave, school holidays in both countries?
  • could we spend a couple of months abroad? what would the school say about that?

and then, you feel that surely there must better ways to support global families, but it is easier to change your own mindset.

Over time, I have learnt that ‘I don’t have to celebrate on the same day’, ‘I will do what feels right to do’…it has taken some creativity. We have celebrated Christmas on New Year’s Day on many occasions. We have had Christmas days in the Summer instead. We have visited at Easter when schools in Quebec are not on holidays and arranged a two week learning experience in the local primary, a very rewarding experience for all. Technology over the last 2o years has also changed our lives…social media sites with chat rooms, texting, video calling and the easy access of the web: listening to the radio live, catching up with news on podcasts, reading papers on-line, have all made a huge difference to the way we can communicate with our family and friends and keep in touch with our cultures.

I have also learnt to cope with these complicated emotions in my own way, by allowing traditions and customs to be part of the celebrations, as well as creating new ones. For example, the children have become accustomed now that when a family member from abroad comes to visit, there will be a special Christmas moment, all of us sitting down in the living room, over a cup of coffee (to recuperate from jet lag), with lots of cuddles and ‘thank yous’. They cherish that moment as a very special moment and anticipate it with excitement. New rituals become very important and part of your own little family. For example, children will always sing Happy Birthday in French and English when they send their wishes to family members by video or phone call. We allow those new rituals to grow and become part of our way of living.

Only recently, I decided I really wanted to be present for a family celebration to see my special special grandmother who is now 93. I had missed so many celebrations over the years and I felt that on this occasion I wanted to be there. I flew over to Canada from England for a weekend! I had never done that in my life, but it felt right to be there and surprise everyone.

How was I meant to react about celebrating Mother’s Day on the same day as my home country, not sure, it took me by surprise. Yes I had a lovely day with my children, making our new traditions, in a new country, eating Japanese food we have now discovered which is available everywhere here and going to the cinema together. With reflection, although you may try to find strategies to cope with not being there for special celebrations, as a global citizen, there will always be some feelings attached to your home country as there are so many reminders that will make feel that way…media, commercial and many others…

Isn’t ok to ‘feel’ as it shows you are well alive, and these feelings may bring new rituals and traditions…

J’aurais bien aimé t’appeler hier Maman, j’ai beaucoup pensé à toi…

 

 

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