How do you organise Christmas when you’ve separated?
One of the tough things about separation is that you don’t just do it once and then get on with life-as-normal. You have to reinvent whole aspects of your life. And part of the new way of doing things includes how you do family occasions like Christmas.
If this is your first Christmas apart and you haven’t already agreed on Christmas plans for your separated family – it’s time to do it now. Your first Christmas apart can sometimes be hard to contemplate. It brings home how much things have changed. Even if the change is good, it often feels strange and tiring and maybe a little lonely.
The longer you leave it, the harder it gets. Expectations build. Yours, your ex-partner’s, the kids’; and then there’s all the friends and relations who hope to figure in your plans as well.
The sooner you both start talking and planning, the more flexibility is likely to be possible. There is no one right way to do Christmas in a separated family. But there are some guidelines that might help you reach agreement about what will suit your family.
Parents make the decisions
Parents make the decisions about the arrangements, not the kids. If you put the decision in the kids’ hands, you effectively ask them to choose between you. For most kids that will feel awful, not festive.
Consulting the kids
You can consult the kids about things like the timing of visits, and which visits come first – just make sure it’s clear that the parents are doing the deciding.
Sort out plans in advance
Let the kids know what the plans are in advance rather than at the last minute. It gives them a chance to get used to what ever you have planned rather than getting high expectations about something else.
Make some room for individual plans
As with any family, you need to take some account of the plans that kids want to make for their own lives. They may have particular activities that are important to them or friends they want to see. Individual planning gets more significant as kids get older.
Too much for the kids won’t be fun for anyone
There is a limit to the number of Christmas dinners and visits that your kids will enjoy in one day, or even in one week. If there are lots of family who want to spend some Christmas time with your children it may be better to spread events out over several weeks rather than try to squeeze them all into one day. Sometimes it’s best not to see everyone every year.
Make it a celebration not a competition
Kids need to feel free to love both their parents, and both sides of their family. Make sure your Christmas plans help them to do this. Look for ways to co-operate rather than to compete with your children’s other parent. If it’s not practical for you to co-operate about presents, meals, activities and holidays at least be sure that you don’t compete. That will only make your kids feel awkward.
If either of you have a new partner, be very cautious about including them in your kids’ Christmas. Especially in the first Christmas with their parents apart kids are likely to find new partners unsettling, and maybe even quite distressing. Your kids may feel that being accepting to a new partner is disloyal to their other parent. Those feelings won’t make for a Merry Christmas for anyone.
If you’re worried about managing a split Christmas in your family talking to one of our counsellors might be helpful.