Joanna Coker: Christmas and divorce
In this blog, Joanna Coker, Local Counselling Centre Director and Sex and Relationship Psychotherapist addresses the thorny issue of Christmas for divorced parents.
For many, Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, eagerly anticipated and prepared for. However, for some divorced families it is a very difficult and stressful time, especially if the divorce or separation is recent or acrimonious.
Last week I was talking to my young friend Jane. Jane’s parents are divorced and so are her husband Tom’s.
‘It is a complete nightmare’, Jane said tearfully. ‘None of them will talk to the ex-partner and all of them want us on Christmas day, so we live for two days on the motorway and have four separate Christmases, and that is without visiting Grandparents. One year we ate three Christmas meals in a day and at each house it is like treading on egg shells.
‘All I want to do is be at home with Tom and shut the door.’
I really empathised with Jane, having spent all my childhood Christmases in transit being shuttled between the various relatives of my divorced warring parents.
So what can parents who are divorced do to make this time of year less stressful?
While it is a big ask, I believe the answer is to put the children first and to accept that not everyone can have them on Christmas Day – it is, after all, just another day in the year.
My sister Sally (also divorced) decided with her husband that though they were no longer together they would spend Christmases together and not on motorways, not just for the children, but also for the extended family. When they announced this I must admit I thought this would be problematic when new partners came on the scene. However, what has happened is a rather wonderful blending of families, where the new partners have joined in and become part of the celebrations. This has taken tremendous courage, acceptance and selflessness on the part of all those involved but has been the greatest gift for the children and other family members.
Not everyone is as fortunate as Sally has been; so here are some tips for getting through the festive season.
- Be unselfish; do not have children and parents going up and down motorways. Accept you cannot have every Christmas with the children and let them properly enjoy a full day with whoever’s turn it is.
- Involve friends and extended family in your Christmas. Give everyone a responsibility to make the festivities go with a swing e.g. games master, music provider etc.
- Understand your children may be sad at not having both parents to celebrate with. Don’t dismiss their feelings, respect them and involve them in planning a different type of Christmas that makes new traditions. Try something different so the sadness of one parent not being there is not associated so acutely with past traditions.
- If they are going off to your partners, wave them off happily and wish them a good time. Even if you feel sad or angry, hold it in, this is your “stuff” not theirs. Don’t take your relationship breakdown out on to them or expect them to take sides.
- Send a gift to the family they are visiting, something impersonal, like chocolates. This models good manners and will give both the family and the children comfort.
- If you are alone, keep yourself occupied. Participate in some form of charity work or activity that means doing something for others and then treat yourself to an upbeat DVD and a glass of wine.
- Try to work with your ex-partner in a co-operative manner. Share with them the details of what you and grandparents are buying the children for Christmas. Discuss how you will be celebrating. Christmas really is all about the children so make them the centre of it all and work around them.
- Help the children pick out gifts for the family – you may feel like giving your ex a lump of coal, but remember they are also a loved parent, so help the children plan and don’t forget to include ex-grandparents and other relatives on your partner’s side.
Divorce and Christmas is not an easy combination, especially when children are involved. When you have children, you cannot realistically cut each other out of their lives, however much you want to. You might find a Parenting Plan can help you negotiate and find compromises that put your kids first. So don’t give up, and remember that however you behave, these will be the Christmas memories you leave behind… make them happy ones. Happy Christmas.
If you need any help and support either as a couple or an individual due to the impact of divorce or the pending breakdown of a relationship contact Local Counselling Centre on 01462 674671 or firstname.lastname@example.org We have specialist therapists in Bedford, Letchworth, Chesham, Welwyn and Barnet.