Co-parenting Christmas – how to deal with the holidays if you’re separated

Mother and daughter opening Christmas presents

If you’ve recently gone through a divorce or a separation, Christmas can be a stressful time of year.

What was once a chance to spend quality time with the family can now serve as a reminder about how much things have changed – and can bring up some complicated emotions for you, your ex-partner and your children.

Whether you’re spending time with the children this Christmas, spending it alone, or a combination of both, it’s entirely normal to feel a little overwhelmed or upset.

Spending it with the children

Your first family Christmas following a separation or divorce might feel a little strange. Familiar rituals will take on a different feel, and it may take a little time before you’re able to settle into things.

For now, all you can try to do is make things as normal as possible. Try to help your children feel that you’re going to learn to adjust together. It’s worth remembering that, in years to come, things will be much easier.

You may find the following tips helpful.

  • If you’ve made plans with your ex, try your best to stick to them. Being able to negotiate effectively together is a big part of learning to parent apart. It’s important everybody demonstrates their commitment to making the new situation work.
  • Present a united front. If you do mention your ex-partner, describe things in a way that shows you’re on the same team. Likewise, when picking up or dropping off the kids, be civil. Scoring points off each other won’t make the situation better – and will likely make the children feel they’re being put in the middle.
  • Keep rules that the children are used to. It’s important they’re held to a consistent set of expectations regardless of who’s looking after them.
  • If your children have questions, be honest – within reason. You need to be able to talk with them about what’s happening, but no child needs to know intimate details about their parent’s separation.
  • Be positive. You’re creating new family rituals and routines that you can enjoy together for years to come.
  • Learn to forgive yourself. You may not get things right straight away.

Getting by on your own

Equally, spending time apart from the children over the holidays can make you feel lonely, isolated or even angry.

You may find yourself mourning the family situation that you used to have or resenting the fact that it’s your ex who is with the kids and not you.

What’s important is you take care of yourself and take the time to process how you’re feeling.

  • Look after yourself. Eat, rest and sleep well when you can.
  • Talk about your feelings. Confiding in friends, family or people trained to listen, such as Samaritans, can help you feel less alone on Christmas Day.
  • Appreciate the good memories. It’s OK to feel sad when a song comes on the radio, but remember the happy times too.
  • Cry if you need to. This is part of coming to terms with your loss.
  • Consider avoiding alcohol. Christmas is the season of merriment, but drinking can sometimes make things worse, especially if you’re already feeling upset.
  • Remember: just because you’re spending Christmas alone this year doesn’t mean you will be next year. Your relationship with your ex may have moved on by this point – or you may be able to plan things differently.
  • Treat yourself. Do something that you enjoy this Christmas – be it seeing friends, going for a day out or just taking the time to relax and forget about things for a little while. You need to reward yourself for getting through these tough times, one step at a time.

You aren’t alone

Samaritans are open throughout Christmas and you can call them on 08457 90 90 90.

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