Christmas is just a few weeks away, and for many divorced or separated families this can mean extra stress and emotional anxiety.
If this is your first Christmas after separation
Be prepared that you may well find the festive season difficult. Take some time to think about how you may feel and whether there are likely to be any specific triggers that may be upsetting for you. Think about ways of coping not just with the festive season in general but with any potential flashpoints. Let go of any traditions that no longer work for you or that you inherited from your ex’s family. Instead, try creating some new traditions to replace any old ones you'd rather forget – you can get your children involved in creating new arrangements to help them feel fully involved in the festive season.
Get organised early on
Don’t leave making the arrangements for the children until the last minute. Sorting out the arrangements early on will ensure that things go smoothly and is especially important when you are also trying to factor in extended family. The earlier everyone knows what is happening and when, the better. Sometimes trying to make arrangements that suit everyone can be a logistical nightmare so, to save yourself a lot of stress, it may be better to let family know when the children will be with you and invite everyone round on just one day – this leaves you and your children free to enjoy the rest of your time together.
Planning and buying the gifts and festive food ahead of when the children will be with you will leave you free to enjoy as much holiday time with them as you have.
Try to keep hand-overs as calm and relaxed as possible. Let the other parent know as early as possible of any changes to the arrangements, such as issues with traffic or public transport. Give your children plenty of time to prepare for the handover – it can be difficult for children to leave something they are enjoying and having fun with, so make sure they know well in advance when they need to get ready to leave. Regardless of how you are feeling, shift your perspective to your children’s happiness and wish them a wonderful time. Don’t let them see you are upset – you can always have a good cry once you are home.
Give children time to adjust
Children may need some time to adjust as they move between their homes. Allow them time to settle in before expecting them to take part in activities and immerse themselves in the festivities. The transition between both homes can be difficult, so don’t take any moodiness or difficult behaviour to heart – give your children time to settle in and they will be fine. It might be an idea to ask any extended family that are visiting to give the children time to relax before asking for cuddles and sharing gifts.
When you aren't with your children on the day
It is a sad fact of family separation that both parents are not usually able to spend every special day with their children. Planning how you will spend your Christmas when your children are with their other parent can be helpful. Use the time to focus on your own well-being and health. Don’t feel guilty about focusing on yourself – you deserve some time to yourself.
You may wish to spend the day alone, with a good box set and tasty treats, or you may choose to spend it with your family or friends. For some people the thought of spending it alone isn’t one they welcome. In which case, perhaps consider volunteering over the festive season. Your local volunteer charity or Timebank can find you volunteering opportunities if you wish to spend your Christmas helping others. Plan your own Christmas for when the children return – you could do the usual Christmas Eve traditions the night they come home, with the following day as your Christmas day, with the meal, gifts and other family traditions.
If you want to speak with your children on Christmas Day (and who wouldn’t?), plan in advance with your ex as to what time would be good for you to call them. This means that the children won’t be interrupted from playing with their gifts or eating their Christmas dinner if you call unannounced. Showing respect for your ex’s parenting time will go a long way.
Parenting isn’t a competition so don’t try to out-do the other parent when it comes to buying presents or arranging surprise outings for the children. Set a budget, and stick to it. If you are on good terms with your ex, you could agree to share the costs of the more expensive presents.
There is a wide range of free fun activities to do (check local papers and websites for details), even just bundling up in coats and scarves and having a walk around your neighbourhood looking at the decorated houses is fun. In the house, keep some board games/cards, art stuff, baking ingredients, etc. so you can keep the children entertained at home for when the weather is bad.
When you are unable to see or contact your children
If you are being prevented from seeing your children over Christmas, this may be an especially difficult time for you. Being surrounded by endless images and advertising portraying the “perfect family Christmas” may make the separation feel even more acute. Some parents find it helpful to speak with others who are in a similar situation. There are a number of internet forums that are specifically for separated parents. If you need to talk to someone, Family Lives have a free helpline that provides support to parents.
If you feel the need to escape the festivities because you find them too painful, you could rent a cottage or Airbnb somewhere and take off for a few days. Having somewhere new to explore can be a great tonic.
If you are unable to send a gift to your children or otherwise let them know you are thinking about them, you could consider buying a different type of gift, such as a tree as part of a forest or wood (the RSPB and The Heart of England Forest offer these). What about naming a star after your children, or planting a tree, rose bush, or other plant in your garden? You will have something tangible to share with your children in the future and be able to show them that they were always in your thoughts while you were apart.
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If you would like any advice or information on making arrangements for your children over the festive season, or if you believe that your former partner will make it difficult for you to see your children, call Oratto today on 0845 3883765 to speak with an experienced family law adviser. You can also book a free telephone consultation by emailing us at email@example.com.