If you find yourself facing the first Christmas after a divorce or separation and you are wondering just how you'll get through it, our Head of Family Law, Tracey Moloney, offers some guidance.
Making Christmas Arrangements
The first Christmas after a separation or divorce is usually the hardest, and this can be even harder when there are children involved. Instead of the whole family spending the festive season together, decisions will instead need to be made about where the children will wake up on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, where they'll open their presents and where they will have their Christmas dinner.
All of a sudden, Christmas can become focussed around negotiations, transport logistics and, in many cases, Court orders. Arrangements will need to be made around who will spend time with the children at what times, with decisions sometimes being taken out of the parents' hands. In 2017, almost half of the children matters that Co-op Legal Services' Family Law team dealt with were in the last 4 months of the year.
It can be a struggle to work out the practicalities while also ensuring that each of the parents (and even the grandparents) get to spend quality time with the children over Christmas. Inevitably, one or both parents could find themselves without their children for some of the holidays.
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So How Can Parents Get Through This?
One of the most important things to remember if you're in this situation is that the children will just want to celebrate Christmas with their family. They're unlikely to mind exactly what this looks like, and if they can celebrate Christmas twice, on two different days, then even better! Be flexible and make the most of the time that you spend with your children, regardless of which day this falls on.
Christmas is known as a time for bringing families together, and this can be very hard to face when you're approaching the first Christmas after a divorce. It's may be that traditions have developed over time that you've played out year after year as a family, and it can come as a sad realisation that these traditions no longer apply.
Instead of longing for what once was, try to look to the future in a positive way. Come up with some ideas of fun, festive activities that you can do together and find ways to make new traditions with your kids.
If you find yourself spending time alone around Christmas, particularly on Christmas Day, then feelings of loneliness and isolation can peak. Instead of getting bogged down in these feelings, take control of the situation.
Speak to friends and family members to see what their plans are – you might be able to get involved with those. For some, this may not be an option or it may be that spending time with family brings up memories that are still too painful. If this is the case, then why not change the way you approach Christmas?
You could go on a trip or do some travelling for example, returning home when it's your turn to have the children. Or you could seek out and connect with other people who are in the same situation.
Alternatively, you could also look into volunteering on Christmas Day. There are a lot of people out there that would be grateful for your time. This could involve visiting isolated individuals in nursing homes, helping the homeless, or even just looking after the neighbour's pets! Refocusing your energy and spending the day helping others can be a really effective way of getting through Christmas without the kids.
It's likely that emotions will be running high as you come to terms with your divorce and face your first Christmas apart. Try to put any feelings of anger or resentment to one side, and instead focus on giving the kids the Christmas they deserve. Avoid getting caught up in arguments or speaking in a negative way about your ex. Remember that, at the end of the day, the children will just want to enjoy the holidays and spend time with their family.
Having worked with lots of people that experience their first Christmas on their own following divorce, it's easy to see how sad and lonely this time can be. Ultimately, I believe the key is to not focus on what used to be and instead focus on new ways to celebrate, and enjoy Christmas. Let go of the old traditions and embrace the fact that you can now make new ones.