‘Twas The Night Before Divorce
The children were rested all snug in their beds while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
This extract is taken from one of the oldest and most popular Christmas poems by Clement Clarke Moore. It conjures up so many lovely romantic images and memories of Christmases past.
However, for many parents the idea of the festive season fills them with dread as there definitely will not be a stir in the house because it’s the ex-partner’s turn to have the children over the jolly holidays! Those of you who have been through a break-up or divorce know only too well how upsetting spending this time away from your children is. So how do you get through it unscathed?
First and foremost, Christmas is a magical time for children and we certainly want to keep it that way. I read recently that in 2019, House Method surveyed more than 4,500 families across the United States and found the overall average age for children no longer believing in Santa Claus is 8.4 years old. I was surprised, as I thought it would be around the age of 10! It is said that some find out earlier but don’t want to let on and spoil it for themselves. Therefore, how wonderful for children to enjoy Christmas when they still believe. So put aside your differences. It is conflict, not separation that harms children.
As separated parents, we want to keep Christmas as real and consistent as possible, but how do we do this? Separated families may feel as though everyone else is enjoying the perfect Christmas while they feel so alone and isolated. Once separated, parents should have thought about the long-term future and in particular the ways in which both will continue to co-parent. This will include a schedule of holidays, birthdays and Christmas.
“A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm,– Garrison Keillor
and we all go through it together.”
S uccessful parenting apart requires one major commitment from each parent and that is the children come first. Thinking about the arrangements in advance can help plan the way you wish your Christmas to pan out on both counts. By sticking to a plan with your ex as to where the children will be spending Christmas each year will help dial down any anxieties as the days and weeks leading up to Christmas go by. Let the children know what is happening so there are no unwanted surprises. Children are not possessions to be fought over and divided up. It is not acceptable to prevent your children seeing the other parent unless there are real concerns about their safety and well-being.
Ensure you communicate with your partner ideas of what presents the children would like for Christmas so that you don’t duplicate the gift causing upset and disappointment. You are not in competition, so don’t try to be outrageously generous because of your feelings. You don’t want to start a precedent for the future either. Believe me, the gifts may get smaller in size as the children grow older, the price tag certainly doesn’t! If you cannot afford what the children would like, explain that to them and may be set a price limit for both you and your ex-spouse.
So that you are not sitting alone imaging what sort of Christmas your children are having, invite a friend round if you know they are also on their own or help out at a local soup kitchen. Go on a wintery walk or curl up on the sofa watching a feel good Christmas film on Netflix. We all have our family Christmas traditions and believe, that if we don’t adhere to them, Christmas will be ruined. However, that is just a thought and not actually true. If you decide not to have a three course meal or crackers on the table, is it really the end of the world? What could you do differently? I remember one particular year when I took myself off to Huntington Race Course on Boxing Day. A new experience for me which was so much fun. Before then, I had never placed a bet. I learnt a lot that day!
If it is the turn of your ex to have the children, why not enjoy your Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with them a week before? That way the children will get to spend this special time with you AND Father Christmas gets to come down the chimney twice. How lucky are they!
C hristmas is a time for families to come together and share the magic and the memories and that is why it is a really difficult time for parents who are separated or divorced. Conversations can be fraught with emotion. It is about compromise. Allow your children to spend time with all their relatives. You can continue with your Christmas traditions or make new ones that you can enjoy in many years to come. It is not easy to co-parent at Christmas, so think of each year as a learning curve and over time you will gradually find your way. If things don’t go well this year, you will learn to improve and make adjustments for next. Please do not be too hard on yourself, you are only human after all. Thank goodness Christmas comes but once a year!