For you, this Christmas may be the first one as a separated or divorced parent. It could be a very hard, lonely and painful time or it could be a time of new beginnings, traditions and memories – it’s up to you.
You might be thinking ‘I will be fine, I’ll go for a run, have a healthy breakfast, and watch my favourite movies’ – (but) when you wake up in a quiet house, everything will be different and yes, it will be tough. So make some Christmas plans and be very deliberate and intentional about it.
Here are some suggestions:
Plan, plan, plan – write everything down; where you will be, who you will be with, what you will be doing. If your children are old enough, get them to help with these plans. Talk to your ex-partner and be sure all plans are in place, that way there will be less confusion on the day.
People, people, people – surround yourself with family and friends. Accept invitations or maybe organize a gathering at your own house. This will keep you busy preparing and organizing the event, and take your mind off what you feel you’re missing, and the pain you may be hanging on to.
Traditions – if you have some family traditions, hold on to what you feel you can, that will help your children, and they will appreciate you trying to keep their memories alive. However, now is a great time to create some new memories. A walk along a nearby beach in the afternoon, baking something delicious for dessert, go to a movie or watch a funny movie at home. Mix it up and think of some fun and new traditions to carry you and your family forward.
Christmas cards – if you do the annual send out of cards at Christmas and feel it’s too hard this year, then skip it! There is no law that says you must send cards, so take a break and put your time into something else.
Gifts – talk to your ex-partner about gifts for the children. You don’t want to double up on gifts and it’s also a good idea not to over-compensate for this new situation by giving them lots of stuff. This will only set you up for future problems with the expectation of the same gift haul every year. Be careful neither partner is trying to buy the children’s love by giving them over and above the usual amount, and also watch what you spend. The last thing you need is a big debt to pay off in the New Year! Keep it simple.
Help your children – help them to understand and know where they will be spending their Christmas day. They may be feeling confused and sad about the changes in their family life. Spend time listening and talking to them about their feelings. If your children usually buy the other parent a gift, help them with that. While this may be painful for you, your children will really appreciate your help.
Put your differences aside – come together as a couple for the day, as difficult as that may be – be grown up and work together to make the day happy and peaceful. Set some boundaries together and work out how you will be able to spend some time as a family without ‘verbally bashing’ each other. Your children will be thankful for your efforts – remember memories are lasting!
Be honest – don’t try and live a lie. Tell people the truth if you’re feeling overwhelmed and not coping. Children cannot live the lie for you and nor should they have to.
Be flexible – don’t try and create the ‘perfect’ Christmas. There is no such thing as perfect and you will only drive yourself crazy in the process.
Be kind to yourself and get support – take things step by step and remember, Christmas is an emotional time, so listen to your emotions, journal and take time out with a good friend or counsellor to talk things out. You will feel clearer and calmer if you get things out and don’t push them down.
Guilt – is an emotion that can destroy you, so if your children are sad about having two family Christmas parties and things now being different, remind them to see the good things in the these changes.
Volunteer – if you find yourself alone over Christmas, seek out places where you may be able to volunteer your time – churches, aged care facilities, hospitals, community centres and pet shelters. They will welcome your help with open arms and you will feel worth while at the end of the day.
Be thankful – don’t get caught up in the pain, loss and bitterness that can accompany divorce and separation, instead be thankful for all the good things you do have in your life.
Family breakdown is a difficult time. Be kind to yourself and create new memories for you and your family.