If you are separated or divorced from your children’s other parent, the holiday season can be an extremely difficult time for all involved. You’ll naturally worry about whether you’re being the best parent you can be and trying to find the delicate balance between making your children happy and making everyone else happy.
One thing’s for sure – you and your ex partner will always have the responsibility of remaining civil for the sake of your kids. Regardless of how much you want to sever ties with your ex, you’ll inevitably need to communicate with one another to coordinate shared care or visits and make decisions about their health, schooling and other life events, as well as coordinating special occasions.
If you have babies or toddlers, the difficulty over the Christmas season is more about developing healthy traditions and the primary barriers will be the way you and your ex feel towards each other, so you’ll need to work on that aspect.
For older children who may be experiencing the effects of divorce for the first time, it can be a lot more complicated and painful. Thankfully, we have a few tips to help you help your children enjoy Christmas after divorce, below:
Be completely selfless
Even if you’re a crying, blubbering mess or seething with anger at your ex, you’re going to have to pull yourself together and face life as though you’re fine and dandy. This may seem like harsh advice, but the reality is this: you are a parent and an adult – you need to put your kids first, no matter what. Even if you know your chances of feeling happy over the holidays are slim to nil, your children deserve to feel happy and loved, so make every decision with their best interests at heart.
Put on a happy face
There’s no time of year that is more wondrous for children than Christmas, so – similar to the above tip – you need to put on a brave face so as not to spoil their magic. If they see that you’re upset (and they will), it will cause feelings of guilt, anger or distress. Taking a leaf from their book and immersing yourself into the Christmas spirit will benefit your children’s wellbeing, as well as your own.
If you’re really struggling with your emotions or think you might be depressed – reach out to someone who can help. Schedule time with a trusted friend, family member, doctor, counsellor or therapist to talk about your situation.
Yes, kids do enjoy receiving presents (who doesn’t?), but they enjoy your attention, time and love even more! They also enjoy the same from their other parent. Because of this, there’s no need to splurge unnecessarily on gifts to try to compete for your children’s love or because you feel guilty. Instead, make sure both you and your ex spend an equal amount of quality time with your kids. In years to come, your children won’t remember what they got for Christmas all those years ago, but they will remember how you made them feel!
Don’t ever badmouth your ex
Regardless of why you left them or how much of a deadbeat your ex partner is, your children love them just as much as they love you. Because of this, you should never speak badly of them in front of your young children. If they break arrangements or don’t seem to want to see their children at all, ensure your little ones know that they are loved by both of you and that your ex partner’s reasons for not seeing them are nothing to do with the way they feel about your child. It is extremely damaging to a child to feel unloved by one parent, so it’s ok to lie to your young children about it until they are at an appropriate age to better understand the situation.
Communicate and plan early
Try to prepare early and be fair when negotiating shared time. You may want to say a lot to your ex, but this time is about the kids – not about you and your ex – so try to remain impartial and discuss only relevant things. It’s so important to communicate well, because misunderstandings can cause arguments and resentment. If you both discuss and plan for events, food, presents etc and stick to those plans, your children’s Christmas will be much merrier.
Give your kids their own schedule
Kids like structure and security, so explain to your children what they will be doing, where they will be and with whom. Ensure that they are comfortable with your plans beforehand and don’t force them to do anything they aren’t comfortable with.
Share the joy
This may seem like a foreign concept to many people, but if you can spend some or all of the holiday period doing things together with your ex and children, then you wouldn’t need to go to the trouble of planning separate events.
Of course, if you are really uncomfortable with this idea, then you’re probably better off doing solo things, but if you can handle it, your kids will benefit immensely.
Create new traditions
Traditionally, Christmas has been about spending time together with loved ones and this has always been represented by the concept of a nuclear family gathered ‘round the tree on Christmas morning.
Creating new traditions that represent your new family structure will help your children to normalise their situation.
Lean on your extended family and friends
Whether they proactively help you, or understand that you need some time alone with your kids, getting your family and friends on board with your plans will help you and your kids feel loved, supported and understood. They’ll likely want to help you spoil your kids too, which definitely won’t hurt them!
Whatever you choose to do to make your children’s holiday season special this year, just remember that – as a parent – you have the responsibility of doing whatever is most beneficial for them. If you do, not only will you be raising happy, well-adjusted individuals, but your kids will remember every Christmas with fondness.