Divorcing At Christmas
Christmas is a sentimental time, a time when the “perfect family” Christmas can feel like an all-consuming goal. For a number of our clients, however, this will be the first Christmas following relationship breakdown. What is that supposed to look like? How does that even feel?
I read an article recently where the journalist described her experience “After 13 years with my husband (client please substitute with wife/partner where appropriate), it seemed extraordinary to me that while I was agonising over whether I’d even still have a house – and the eye wateringly high monetary and emotional cost of resolving that in court (note to client should have gone to mediation) – grown adults were squabbling over where Santa would leave his haul and who’d get to pull the first Cracker.” I suspect this might ring a bell with quite a few.
As a mediator you hear Christmas arrangements of every sort discussed so here are some of the ideas/experiences/words of wisdom that clients and staff heave learned from over the years. I hope it’s helpful.
Christmas isn’t always on the 25th!
It is unlikely that Jesus Christ was born on December 25th, I heard October is actually more likely so if it moves a day or two in your home does it matter?
What is one perk that children with parents who no longer live together have?
It’s two Christmases! Yes, there may be a number of losses and additional challenges for children following relationship breakdown, but this is one BIG perk for little ones. Santa comes twice because they have two homes, two sets of pressie opening, two family gatherings, two lots of special food and special family traditions. These little guys have earned it and both parents get to make it special and younger children are unlikely to worry if one is on the 22nd , 26th, 28th.
Don’t cause stress for your kids at Christmas. They should know that the absent parent would prefer to be with them of course. However, if they think you are alone weeping and heartbroken that will well and truly take the shine away from Christmas for them. Let them know you will be OK and have nice plans to look forward to and are excited for their second Christmas with them. Keep the magic alive for them, they only get one childhood, and this is a special time.
Dig deep and do what you can to make things easier for the children when it comes to Christmas plays at school etc. some parents have Christmas lunch together. Know your limits if you can’t do something without it making you too emotional or angry, be honest and accept you are not in that place currently. Keeping life peaceful at this busy time is helpful for all.
If it’s not your turn to have the children?
The first time can be a particularly tough time for you. Be kind to yourself and consider some adult only options. Think outside the box, what do you like doing that is more difficult with little one’s in tow? Can you do that? Watch movies that you want to watch, eat the food you want to eat, re-charge ahead of your special time with your children, creating some new festive traditions. If you have a new partner, could you treat yourself to cocktails and a posh meal out on Christmas Eve for example? Either way, little treats can help you adjust to something you would never have wished for.
Give to others
Distract yourself. With the cost-of-living crisis there are many people in real trouble at the moment. Can you help at a charity? The big charities have often lined up their volunteers much earlier in the year so you may have to call a few, but local charities can often be more responsive to the offer of an extra pair of hands. Perhaps you know others facing Christmas alone for whatever reason, can you group together and give them and consequently you a happier Christmas?
Be a team with your ex
This can be a tough one if you are feeling hurt, betrayed, angry or plain old sick of them can't it? However, it could help both of you as well as the children. Check what you (and in-laws) are each giving the kids if you are not doing joint presents, a clash is awkward. Also, try to avoid the temptation to out buy your ex. It causes resentment and where does it end? If there is something a bit pricey that the kids are dreaming of, can you combine resources and get it from you both? Showing your children, you can work together for them to have a treat is a win win for the children on so many levels. Working together with your ex may not be possible in all cases, safety for all involved comes first, but do what you can in your situation.
Don’t go to court
Mediation can help you work out arrangements that are fair to the children, but court is a whole new level of war. It is slow, very slow and very stressful. It is also very difficult to co-parent with someone you have taken to court, think carefully before you burn that bridge. There are of course exceptions where court has to be seriously considered. If an ex-partner is violent, abusive or not able to meet the children’s welfare needs or if there will be true emotional distress for the children, then court may be the only option. Otherwise, it can be helpful to remember that by next Christmas things might feel different, Christmas without children, like a painful break up gets easier with time.
It's not about you
Christmas means more to children than it does to us. If your children have two parents to love them, they are more fortunate than some. It might be frustrating, unjust, and downright heart-breaking at times but what counts for most of us is that our little one’s are happy at Christmas.
Embrace the spirit of Christmas
Make the time you have with your children special and be kind to yourself with little treats for the times you don’t. Never make a child feel guilty or conflicted about fun with the other parent. A peaceful Christmas for all, together or alone, is something to treasure. This is a new chapter, make it a good one, you and your children will look back on fondly.