A personal column by Louise Thomason

Acts of Christmas kindness

We’re just a week away from Christmas. Our tree is up, some presents wrapped, and meal planning has commenced. I have to admit that, with a 16-month-old not yet aware of all the fuss, I’m probably the most excited member of the family.

I’m not sure why I love Christmas so much. I’m not excited for presents (much! Okay, maybe a little) but instead the prospect of being together with family and friends and taking stock of the year, cosying up and enjoying simple things: good food, good company and quieter days.

This will probably completely change as my son gets older and the mayhem of parties and the excitement of Santy takes over, but I’d like to try and hold on to some of the values that Christmas represents.

As an atheist, this is less to do with a Christian message, but I don’t feel that it’s necessary to be a believer to uphold traditionally Christian beliefs – to want to be kind to people, to think about those that have less than us, and to be grateful for all that we have.

Every day there is some fresh horror on the news, be it the fighting in Aleppo, hunger in Yemen, or the spread of right-wing politics closer to home.

It can feel quite wrong to be celebrating with these events going on, but I feel that these things make it even more crucial to hold on to and celebrate what is important in life, and if we can, donate a little of what we might spend on Christmas to a worthy cause, be that local or further afield.

That is what Christmas means to me.

Loneliness and new mums

A report into loneliness in the UK was released this month. Commissioned by the British Red Cross in conjunction with the Co-operative, the report found that over 9 million people are affected by loneliness, citing that they are often or always feel lonely.

While old age is a common factor in loneliness, the report highlighted other life-changing events that can cause people to feel lonely, including becoming a new mother.

With the breakdown of traditional community structures, such as extended families living together or within close proximity to each other, there is much more pressure on parents – and particularly women – to raise children effectively alone.

Motherhood can cause feelings of extreme loneliness. Being alone all day with a baby or young child is not always the sweet dream it is held up to be, and can be hard, isolating and exhausting.

Despite the encouragement for new mums to go to toddler groups and meet other mothers, it’s not always easy. (I don’t know about you but when I feel sleep deprived, anxious, and fuelled by hormones, I don’t particularly want to go and chat to a stranger.)

Yet the effects of feeling lonely are extremely serious. From psychological problems such as lack of confidence and negative thoughts and emotions, to knock on behavioural issues and even physical problems, it touches every aspect of a sufferer’s life.

The report, which you can find at www.redcross.org.uk, did, however, cite a great degree of willingness from the public to help those suffering loneliness. And we can all do something to help.

From structured activities such as volunteering or helping at a community club or event to smaller acts like stopping to talk to a neighbour, helping a relative with transport, or simply asking someone how they are, it all counts.

Sometimes, when we’re caught up in our own lives, it can seem as though everyone is getting on fine, or even doing better than us.

Particularly with motherhood: in the early months of my son’s life, it felt like every other mum was more together than me. In reality, they were probably all in the same boat, scraping by, milk stained and living on coffee. Maybe if I’d plucked up the courage to chat to them, I’d have realised that, and might have felt better about my own abilities.

Taking the time to speak to someone and finding out how they’re doing is worth the effort – chances are, it’ll make a huge difference, to your life and theirs.

Fabulous Fair Isle

I finally got round to watching the BBC documentary Fair Isle: Living on the Edge this week. It’s always a thrill seeing places and people you know on TV, and this didn’t disappoint.

I had been a little nervous prior to watching it, feeling slightly protective over the isle and its folk. It can be all too easy to be disparaging of small communities, to portray their inhabitants as eccentrics, behind the times, or worse; or to romanticise what can be a challenging place to be.

I needn’t have worried, however. The programme was beautifully shot and sensitively written and did a fantastic job, I thought, of portraying the realities of life on Fair Isle. I’ve only visited twice, and while it’s not somewhere I feel I could live – getting on and off Mainland Shetland is problematic enough for my family’s situation – I do adore it.


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