How to survive a divorced Christmas (with kids)

man lifting child next to christmas tree and women on floor putting decorations on tree

I’ve survived Christmas being divorced for a decade, with two children, twins, now 12.

There’s no doubt it’s tough at Christmas for many people. And those going through a divorce or even those who have been long term separated can feel it most. 

There is so much pressure to make it all light, bright, merry and fun, especially for the children. Somehow Christmas can put our biggest insecurities right under the microscope for all to see.

Familiarity and support often beckon in the form of well-meaning family members. But for some, the best option is to carve out a new future and give Christmas a whole new identity within the new family units.

It’s a cliche, but appreciating what you have, and being grateful is always a positive first step, and if you make plans from there, that’s a great starting point.

These are some of the lessons I have learnt along the way from my own expertness and from those of my friends;

  • Don’t give a second thought to what others think. Including your extended family. Do what’s right for you. Everyone has an opinion. And if you listen to them, you risk feeling conflicted.
  • Don’t judge yourself. Putting your own air mask on in the emotional sense is critical. If you’re not the best version of yourself for you, you’re not much good to anyone else. Back yourself and make decisions that feel right for you. 
  • It’s ok to spend Christmas together even if you’re separated. The first Christmas I separated, my ex and I had Christmas lunch together with our kids and other friends. And it was great. There have been other times including the kid’s birthdays where we have flown to the other side of the world to celebrate together for the kids. And I don’t regret a second of it.
  • It’s ok to spend Christmas apart – and to not see your kids assuming they’re with the other parent or other friends or family. Everyone is juggling a lot at this time of year, including feelings. Don’t feel you have to see your kids or feel you’re a bad parent if you don’t or if you’re just not up for it.
  • And remember flying Christmas Day is an option if you just need to get away, and it is a fantastic day to fly as the flights are half full and the airports are almost empty.
  • It’s ok to divide Christmas in half – so the kids spend Xmas Eve with one parent and Xmas day with the other for example. 
  • You get the drift-there are no rules and no right or wrong answers. Do what works for your family this year and try not to judge your ex, your children or yourself. And don’t think about next year now- see how you feel then.
  • Whatever you decide, ensure your day is planned out and you both know what is happening. This is not the year to be spontaneous.
  • If you are spending time together, take care of what music is playing as soppy love songs could trigger emotions.
  • Talk it through with your ex and/or your children before the day. For example, are you going to give gifts and that terrible but real question of who is paying or providing what for the meal is important. Avoid letting financial issues surface on the day by pre-planning and communicating clearly. 
  • Don’t post on social media until after the day. Everyone’s feelings are heightened and for many -even after many years apart- special occasions bring stuff up. Heck, they bring stuff up for people not separated. So respect everyone’s privacy and space and keep off social media. And if you want to post photos down the track, ask before you do, especially if the photo includes both you and your ex. 
  • Ideally don’t put your new love on social media at this time of year. It will only cause you, your ex, your children and potentially their children pain. I’m not a fan of social media relationships, and these continual announcements of someone’s latest partner on my feed. But even if you are, pull back. If you absolutely must, New Year’s Eve is a much more appropriate time to don the sequins and pout poses. 
  • Be open to new paradigms and rituals. So many families have their own Christmas traditions. Whether it is church in the morning, gifts at the crack of dawn, egg nog on Christmas Eve and so on. Be open to invitations from friends and don’t say no to new experiences even if it doesn’t involve your traditional religion or beliefs. Separation offers the opportunity to change and try new things, so walk forwards, be as open as you can.
  • Keep the Christmas booze to a minimum. It’s absolutely ok to have a glass or two at Christmas, but set yourself a limit. You can always top up after the family lunch when people have gone home if you really need to.
  • Enlist a support person. It’s ok to ask for help. A bestie, someone who has also been through a divorce or just a genuine, nice person who has time to be with you at Christmas is a bonus. Tell them of your intentions and ask them to help you stick to them. 
  • Reward yourself. None of this is easy. And when we are experiencing a crisis, we tend to forget about our own needs. But this is the last thing we should do.
  • Invest in yourself whether that be a facial, personal trainer or a bottle of fabulous champagne. (To drink after the family Christmas if that’s what you’re doing this year). Giving to yourself is the greatest gift of all. 
  • And take photos (or videos) as you will look back on this time and the strength you find with much admiration of yourself – I promise.

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