At a time when we are besieged with social media images of cosy families in matching Christmas PJs sitting around the tree, showing joy and togetherness. You may well find yourself navigating the difficult terrain of logistics, doubling up of presents, who gets to wake up with the kids or literally being alone for the first time this Christmas.
> "Divorce and separation will bring so many new challenges and an immense amount of change. How you choose to embrace that change is up to you. Sometimes it will be easy, other times it will feel unfair - but as the saying goes…we cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand." > Randy Pausch
I am a huge believer in confronting your pain and feelings and hitting rock bottom to then start rising, growing and becoming stronger. Being challenged takes us to places that show us that we have strength, resilience and tenacity, all amazing life enhancing qualities. In my experience you will not hit ‘rock bottom’ only once after your separation. As your year progresses you will be confronted with so many situations and scenarios that are now new as you are ‘solo’. These include special celebrations such as Christmas.
Last year I experienced my first Christmas away from my sons. I was not only away from them...we were in two completely different parts of the world with different time zones. They were with their father and new step mother on holidays and I returned to my family in Australia surrounded by my niece and nephews, family and friends. It was a series of events and discussions that lead to this point. I knew because of our living arrangements a shared Christmas was not possible. I also thought that one of us was going to be alone… if it was not me…it would be their dad. I realised that my ability to empathise with him at this time of year was a big step forward into resetting our future. I decided to do everything possible to enable our sons to holiday with him but still feel and enjoy the Christmas holiday spirit with me and simply have an alternative Christmas. I also realised that my attitude largely influenced their acceptance of the festive holiday plans.
In reality I did shed some tears as I missed them and felt detached but I also knew they were happy, safe and having fun.
This year I will no doubt be in lockdown, but will have my boys with me. I have already started planning and discussing arrangements with their dad. Christmas gifts have been ordered and delivered. I offered to wrap them on his behalf. I said we will facetime and the moment of unwrapping so he can see their expressions and delight in real time. We will have joint video calls to extended family and I will let him entertain them virtually whilst I’m preparing the turkey and busy in the kitchen. We will ask Alexa to play Christmas music and most probably fall asleep watching a movie after taking our dog for a long walk. Their dad will absolutely be a part of our day which I know he will love but even more importantly the boys will.
One thing we have all learnt this year with the trauma and difficulty of Covid-19 is that technology can be embraced in a very human way. We can interact and share our ordinary moments easily rather than saving them up for that special time together. Use this technology to your advantage and enjoy it, because the other thing 2020 has taught us is that life can be unexpected and often tragically short.
My top tips for surviving your first big celebratory holiday solo are:
- Accept that this year is unique and different and think about making the time special rather than focusing on what is missing.
- Acknowledge and allow yourself to accept that at times it will be emotional and hard.
- Plan your time so you have a combination of being busy and celebrating with family and friends but also some time out to deal with your mixed emotions.
- Have a ‘build up’ of Christmas activities prior to saying goodbye before the actual day. Supplementing their traditional chocolate advent calendar, I did an activity advent calendar. Every night I would write an activity for the next day…… sing me a Christmas carol, build a gingerbread house, bake cookies, write to Father Christmas, make a personal decoration for the tree, decorate cookies, prepare a small hamper of essentials for someone in need, watch Polar Express. The activities can be as imaginative as you wish.
- Start some new traditions to create your own personal memories.
- Accept that your ex-partner will most probably start their own unique traditions too. Don’t judge, don’t compete, celebrate that the kids will be excited and happy.
- Discuss the gift giving and make sure you are not doubling up or being outrageously generous, because of your feelings, as opposed to their needs or desire.
- Do something you have always wanted to do or something different for yourself - for example: Travel or have a spa day (Covid-19 allowed)
- Give something back. Volunteer or donate your time, food, unwanted things to someone in need.
- Try to avoid unsupportive people and focus on working towards feeling stable and secure.
- Spend some time reflecting on how far you have come and realise that one of you had to be away from your children. Remind yourself that emotions are a source of information.
- If you are sharing the day, discuss well and truly in advance, timing and what the kids will need to pack….. and most importantly share this information with the kids.
- Never use the children as a pawn to gain ‘one-upmanship’ or hurt or punish your ex. This is totally counter-productive, a cheap shot and not in the children’s best interests. Remember to cooperating with your ex is not giving in, it is putting your children first.
- Keep up with your self-care routine - exercise, sleep, diet and grooming
- Know that this new way of celebrating will become easier with time.