Due to the emotional toll that separation and divorce brings, Christmas and other holidays can be a very challenging time. The feeling of sadness, loneliness, even anger is a normal response for people who will be spending Christmas alone for the first time or experiencing a significant change to their Christmas traditions due to their separation or divorce.
Christmas is a special time for children and parents alike, and for most it is to be spent with your family and loved ones. However, due to the challenges of being separated or divorced, people may find themselves spending the holidays away from their families.
It is important that your family understand that post-divorce, Christmas may not be the same as previous holiday seasons, but it may not be as challenging as you imagined. Even if you are a divorced parent, it does not mean that you cannot enjoy Christmas.
This article outlines some helpful tips to help you navigate this Christmas season as a separated or divorced parent.
Acknowledging this as a milestone
Acknowledging separation or divorce as a major milestone in your life can help you survive the holiday season. Being separated or divorced is new territory that you can explore, and this is a milestone in itself. While the traditions that you normally follow during the holiday season might change this year, it does not mean that Christmas cannot be celebrated.
While the hardest part of being divorced is spending time away from your children, you can see this as an opportunity to create new traditions guided by frameworks and arrangements that you set with your former partner.
But what about the issue of determining who will have the children on particular days during the festive season?
If you want to spend time with your children during the holiday season, I recommend you plan early. This is a key step to avoid the anxiety caused by having arrangements left unresolved. When planning for the holidays, taking into account the traditions and other family events you or your former partner might have, is key. Not all traditions and rituals can be upheld, where children may be dividing their time between two homes, so it is important to come to a realistic expectation of what can be maintained and how much time you can spend with your children.
When planning, it is also important to remember that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and that the arrangements should be child-focused and accommodate the needs of the children based on their ages and specific needs. Different families have different needs, so make sure to communicate with the other parent to preempt potential issues wherever possible.
Setting a tone that fosters calm communications with your partner wherever possible is key to this process. Coming in with a list of reasonable ‘wants’ is fine but understanding that they may not be achievable is important to recognise from the outset. If both of you approach this planning with the intention to come to an agreement, this is the very first step in minimising stress and conflict and will help you manage your first Christmas as a separated or divorced parent.
In many separated families, it may not be possible for both of you to have time with your children on Christmas Day, particularly where distance or significant travel is involved. Many times one parent will not see their children on Christmas Day and instead allocate another day as their Christmas together. This is often the case to ensure that children do not spend significant amounts of time on Christmas Day travelling to and from destinations, and instead enjoy the celebrations. Understandably people can get quite emotional about arrangements but it is important to keep in mind that not being present for that one day is not going to impact on relationships you share with your children in the longer term. It is important to keep perspective about that and take other opportunities to create special moments with your children where available.
Taking care of yourself
The emotional fallout following a divorce can be exhausting and there are people who find prioritising their own self care overwhelming.
If this will be your first time spending the holiday season away from your children, it is important to focus on taking care of yourself and avoiding overthinking your situation. Whilst this is easier said than done, it is important to make some plans for yourself and try to keep busy.
Consider your children first
As a parent planning for this first Christmas as separated parents, it should always be your priority to think about the needs of your children first and ensure they are separate from your own wishes. Even though you want to spend extended time with them during the holidays, always put your children’s desires ahead of your own and support them during this change of rituals and traditions. When you do have time with them, even though it may not be on ‘the day’ continuing some of the rituals will be helpful.
Arrangements are not always about how much time you want to spend with your children. It is about maximising every chance that you have with them and making the most of the holiday season with them. If you and the other parent cannot come to an agreement, consider getting specialist advice early on in the process so you can access help in sorting out arrangements through negotiation or dispute resolution. Or if need be, speak to a family law specialist to explore if there is room to make an assisted agreement.
As much as possible, avoid making assumptions about what the other parent wants and make arrangements through proper communication. Ideally, you will want to formalise your arrangements through a parenting plan or Parenting Order to avoid any potential disputes and have a guide about how any future arrangements will work.
In the end, the key to surviving the Christmas season after divorce is to plan ahead, ensure good communication with the other parent about arrangements and to keep your expectations realistic.
Phillips Family Law is an award winning Family Law practice serving clients across Australia and abroad. Regardless of where you are in your decision making process, we can make you aware of your options. To discuss your situation confidentially phone (07) 3007 9898 or secure a time by clicking here.
Disclaimer: The content in this article provides general information however it does not substitute legal advice or opinion. Information is best used in conjunction with legal advice from an experienced member of our team.