How you can get through the challenges of Christmas with children following a divorce.
Perhaps no other time of the year is quite as conflicted and confusing for a divorced parent as Christmas, especially the first one after relationship breakdown.
Whether the children are celebrating the season with you or with your former spouse, the mere fact of Christmas with all its logistical, symbolic and sentimental challenges can easily leave you feeling overwhelmed, embittered or regretful.
Yes, it's all too easy to turn on the television to see all the studio-lit, happy families of Christmas movies and feel like you are the only one who is suffering family problems. It may well seem that you are alone in experiencing misery and sadness at Christmas and that you are responsible for your children being deprived of what should be the most joyous time of the year.
For the divorced parent who has their children with them at Christmas, it can easily feel like you have been saddled with an intolerable burden. Not only is it up to you to do all the shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking, washing up and Christmas mood management but you also have to contend with the thought that your ex-partner is free of all these burdens and is perhaps putting their feet up while receiving a massage from their new romantic flame or perhaps even sunning themselves on some far-flung shore.
And yet, for many non-resident parents, the experience of Christmas can feel unbearably desolate, particularly if access to children has been sought and denied over the period, and it can be tempting to seek solace in overindulgence, isolation and melancholy.
Planning is key
Fortunately, though, all need not be doom, gloom and contention. With a simple bit of sober foresight, impartial empathy and considered planning it may be possible to come to an informal arrangement that allows you and your ex-partner to make the most of your respective Christmases – doing so may also help prevent your children from feeling any divided loyalties, guilt or indeed from simply missing out on fulfilling relationships with both parents.
This is why we recommend that parents attempt to broach the subject of Christmas well in advance of the later weeks of December; if possible and certainly for ongoing Christmases, plans can be made even as much as a year ahead to prevent an intense and belated preamble of stressful pre-Christmas negotiations.
This gives both parents time to reflect, to make plans and to consider their needs alongside those of the other parent as well as their children. In situations where relationships have broken down to such an extent that constructive conversations between parents are seemingly impossible, it may unfortunately be necessary to put things in the hands of a mediator or family law solicitor.
For most divorcing parents drawing up an effective parenting plan is key to moving forward with divorce and Christmas and holiday plans should be one of the key elements for consideration.
Compromise may be needed
For divorced or divorcing parents who live close enough and are on reasonably civil terms plans may involve arranging a time on Christmas Day for the non-resident parent to give presents, even if it is just for an hour in the morning or afternoon.
Achieving this may not be possible, but when some sort of compromise is reached children can take reassurance that their relationship with each parent is not irrevocably harmed by the split and that important days, like Christmas, can be handled without incident, argument or pain.
Pre-Christmas conversations might even touch on the idea of the children spending Christmas with each parent on alternate years or – and this is may be preference for many greedily wide-eyed offspring – of having two Christmases; one on the day itself and a second on another day relatively nearby on the calendar.
However, it is important that parents don’t give in to their competitive instincts over Christmas. As such, don’t try too hard. Your children will be better off if Christmas is genuinely about them rather than any point scoring or competition for love – if there is any significant financial disparity between the two parents, it is probably best that the wealthier parent shows restraint when it comes to gift giving.
Ultimately, turning Christmas into an arms race for affection is only going to confuse and internally divide children. If you have any resentment, it is important that you acknowledge it and let it go rather than giving way to it. The example you set your children now is going to have an impact for their lifetime. Keep your gripes and complaints about your ex for your divorce solicitor – you will benefit in the long run.
Look after yourself too
Lastly, don’t forget yourself. Christmas might the season of giving, but as we all know, if you don’t give yourself time, love and nurturing, it can be very hard to do the necessary for others while also keeping your spirits up.
As such, be realistic and accept that Christmas as a divorcee or separated person is going to be different. Talk to friends and family about how you are feeling and plan in advance about how you will give yourself some breathing space on and around Christmas day.
New realities bring new challenges, but Christmas can be weathered without resorting to acrimony. It can even be enjoyed if you stay calm, compassionate and fully conscious of the Christmas spirit.
Contact Oratto on 0845 3883765 to speak with a family law adviser or use our contact form to arrange a call-back.