I had just started secondary school when my parents separated. It was an acrimonious divorce with two damaged adults trying to deal with their own emotions, whilst bringing up their children.
Straight after the divorce, Christmas became a time of anxiety, which started as early as October half term. Who would I be with on Christmas Day? Going to church on Christmas Day was a big deal to my Mum and if we weren’t there to go with her, she would be upset. But, we lived with Mum every day and Dad might like to spend Christmas Day with us this year. I only saw him at weekends and I missed him. But, Dad had a new girlfriend, so if we weren’t with him on Christmas Day, at least he wouldn’t be on his own, but Mum would be on her own, and she would be so unhappy without us. Communication between my parents was so strained, they struggled to agree on dates and I wouldn’t know what was happening until quite close to Christmas.
The practicality of presents worried me too. My pocket money was limited and I wasn’t allowed to go to the shops by myself but I wanted to give presents to my mum and my Dad. They both seemed to hate each other so much, I didn’t dare mention my Mum in front of my Dad or vice versa. If I told my Mum I wanted to give my Dad a present, she’d have told me, “he doesn’t deserve it, he left our family”.
But even when Christmas day was over, the anxiety didn’t end. My siblings and I knew that we would be questioned about life at the other parent’s house, what we’d eaten, what we’d done etc. There was a fine and invisible line to tread – you had to contain your feelings to make sure you didn’t make it sound like you’d had too much fun with the other parent, for fear of upsetting their feelings.
‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, as my Grandma always said, but I wish that Christmas and New Year hadn’t always been such a stressful time of year to me.
Agree where the children will be over the period well in advance. Let the children know and maybe put it on a calendar, so they can check for themselves.
Even if the dates don’t suit you, let your child/ren know that you and your ex have agreed them together and you’re both happy and looking forward to spending time with the children over the holidays.
People moan about Christmas starting in November nowadays but you can use this to your advantage and plan Christmas activities throughout December, rather than doing everything in Christmas week.
Even if it’s the last thing you want to do, help your children to ensure they have a present for the other parent. Something homemade, a photo, their favourite bar of chocolate, it doesn’t have to be expensive – you’re just teaching your children the joy of giving gifts, as well as receiving them.
Send your children off with a smile. Even if you are going to hide under your duvet until it’s all over, let them think that you’ll be happy and busy and looking forward to seeing them afterwards.
When they do come home, let them share their joy freely with you. Bite back the snide comments and the digs at your ex – save them to share with your own friends.
I hope that the above helps you to navigate the holiday season and that you are all able to enjoy the festivities. If you’d like some more support, join our support forum to book a free 15-minute advice call with one of our amicable experts.