Surviving Christmas After Divorce – Celebrating, Custody & Separated Families

Christmas can be less than merry when you’re fighting with an ex. Writer Heidi Lewis explores surviving the silly season when it’s Christmas after divorce…. 

I remember the wonder and magic of Christmas as a child. Looking forward to spending the day with my family. Presents, lunch and mountains of dessert with my cousins. Then my parents separated, and suddenly Christmas was a tug of war laced with guilt, logistics and anxiety. I never wanted that for my own children, but you can’t be sure of what life will throw at you. Sure enough I found myself in a three-hour long mediation session just this week discussing (amongst other things) Christmas lunch.

Christmas as an adult can be a little stressful at the best of times but the payoff is the privilege of watching the magic of the day unfold through your children’s eyes. So, it’s understandable that Christmas post separation or divorce can be tough. Especially if you may not even have your kids. However, please trust us, there are some ways to not only survive the silly season, but reclaim a little joy too.

Make a plan and get it in writing 

It’s best to try to do this well in advance so that extended family can work together to adjust their schedules. If you’re amicable enough to work it out between you and your co-parent that’s great! (But trust me you still want to get the details of the plan at least via email!) If not, Family Relationship centres can help out with the negotiation of a Parenting Plan. This plan can also later be signed off on in court, reducing court time and costs. For every family, the type of access arrangement will be different according to the location of both parents, ages of the children, other siblings involved and many other factors. The important thing to remember here is what is going to be in the best interests of your children? Most families in close proximity opt for alternate Christmases or a change over on Christmas Day. Your ex may be a complete jerk but remember this isn’t your children’s fault so keep your focus on making the day as easy and stress-free for them as possible.

Think about yourself

With the practicality of where the kids will be all sorted, it’s time to think about what you’re going to need. I won’t lie to you; it’s going to suck. A lot. That first Christmas Eve where you’re not putting out snacks and drinks for Santa and the first Christmas morning where you’re not woken at 5am to see all the presents under the tree… it hurts. It will however get better over time, I promise. If you feel the need to spend that time wallowing at home alone I really don’t blame you. If you can try to get out a little and spend time with friends and family you’ll thank yourself for it afterward. I surprised myself by finding joy in crashing a friend’s Christmas Day celebrations and spending time with her children. Surrounding yourself with friends and family helps keep you distracted and at least then you’re not at home drinking heavy-spiked eggnog on your own! Aim to speak to your kids on the day. Skype and FaceTime are awesome if you want to see the joy on their faces, and they’d love to see and hear that you have something fun planned too.

Create new traditions and extend the season 

Your family is changing. It’s great if you can keep some of the old traditions, but start some new ones too. Try not to make Christmas just about the day itself, with the emphasis on that one day taken away it doesn’t seem quite so bad. Perhaps go to Carols by Candlelight in the weeks before. Or organise a family dinner before the children go away. Celebrate the whole month, or the twelve days of Christmas. Hire a mini bus with the extended family and tour the spectacular Christmas lights in your area. Volunteer to help others in need. Make Boxing Day or New Year’s your thing. More chances to celebrate are always a good thing! Taking the focus off the 25th and making Christmas a season means there’s more joy to be had for everyone – and less loss on the actual day if the kids are not with you.

Although at this time of the year it feels like everywhere you look there are couples and families, remember you are not completely alone. Christmas is one day in 365 and you will get through this. Your children take their cues from you, and honestly they don’t want to see mum wallowing in the bottom of a wine bottle. Show them that even though you’ll miss them you plan on enjoying the heck out of Christmas and sharing the fun and excitement when you all get together again!

Oh, and just so you know … it’s not such a bad thing to also quietly celebrate no longer being stuck in a relationship you weren’t happy in. Here’s to new beginnings!

Avatar of Heidi Lewis

Heidi is a teacher and single mum of four who goes to gym in order to indulge her love of cheesecake. Raising kids with ADHD and Aspergers is fast, chaotic and often hilarious, but she wouldn't change a thing. Heidi recovers with good chick lit, writing and Netflix after bedtime.

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