Christmas is a time of year associated with family, children, home and happiness. But what if you are a parent going through a separation or divorce, or have already parted company? It’s getting to that time of year; the Christmas jingles are playing in every shop, the children’s Christmas play rehearsals are in full swing and the TV adverts are showing warm, comforting scenes of families sitting around an open fire. Are your emotions and anxieties rising? Are you catastrophising over how much time you will have with the children and how much you will spend on your own? You are not alone. Only around 25% of divorced or separated parents spend Christmas together with their children. The other 75% get to compromise. We have put together 10 top tips to help you plan for and make Christmas work for you and your family.
#1 Start preparing early
Whether this is your first Christmas apart or you are entering familiar territory, it is a good idea to start to think about how things could work. Talk to your ex about how you think things could work. Gauge their opinion. This will minimise any last-minute shocks that could derail you nearer the time. It also means you can both start to plan.
#2 Involve the children
Christmas is a magical time for children and the last thing you will want is for them to feeling any sense of duty towards one or other parent or to worry about wanting to spend time with both of you. If your children are over 10 then they should be able to be involved in the discussions. Find out how they would like to balance their Christmas with both of you. Let them know that it is ok to talk about this. You will be teaching them to think around a very modern-day situation.
#3 Don’t compete
So many parents find themselves arguing over who is buying what, or what not to buy. Don’t see present buying as a competition. It is not good for the children nor for your stress levels. The non-resident parent can offer compensate for not living with the children, buying bigger, more expensive presents as a way of ‘making it up to them’, or even sometimes as a way of outdoing the other parent. Don’t fall into that trap.
#4 Time is all you need
Children will always value time with their parents. Spending time with both parents individually may or may not be something they have become accustomed to but it will be something they will enjoy. Give yourself space to devote positive time with your children. Put any difficulties or emotions around being divorced or separated, and enjoy your family time.
#5 Be fair
Whatever the state of the relationship with your ex, don’t put the children in the middle. Try to consider how they enjoy time with their children. You may feel lonely when they are not with you, but your children will be enjoying time with their other parent. You may not be a couple any longer, but you are both still parents.
#6 Don’t forget the grandparents
Remember, your children still have two sets of grandparents. Try and allow time for them to see both sets of grandparents which may mean them spending a little bit longer with your ex if he or she has to factor in a trip to his or her parents. The children still have them in their lives and need to continue to feel part of a larger family unit.
#7 Make time for you
Of course, Christmas is more about the children but don’t forget ‘you’. Making time for yourself, whether that means some alone time or time with friends and family, is important. Put your worries and emotions aside and enjoy your time. As a parent you will be constantly dividing yourself between home, children and possibly work. Recharging your batteries and finding another ‘you’ is allowed and may even provide you with new energy to face the incoming new year.
#8 Don’t badmouth
If your relationship with your ex is not in the best place, make sure you keep your feelings to yourself in front of the children. It may be hard to keep a tight lip if the other parent lets the children down or tries to create a tug of war. But letting the children be party to these adult struggles will do them no good. Keep calm and keep your views out of it, even if your children ask! It will be better for you and them in the long run.
#9 Make a list
How many times do we all wait for Christmas to be out of the way before we start creating long lists of resolutions, plans and jobs for the New Year? Then get writing. Give yourself some positive things to focus on and get your plans clear in your head. If, sadly, your divorce or separation is not finalised, then maybe the time you have on your own is a good opportunity to make lists of the things you need to do. Or maybe just write a list of things that you want to achieve and goals you have set yourself. Having things to work towards is always a good thing.
#10 And finally
Remember, it is just another day! Whatever your situation and wherever you are in the process of single parenthood, it is just another day. You will have lots more days without your children in the future, so use this time to get a routine that suits you all.