- Plan ahead
- Don’t put pressure on children to choose between their parents
- Listen to the children
- Be positive about children spending time with both parents
- Communicate in advance with your ex
- Involve the extended family where appropriate
- Share the cost of big presents
- Look after yourself!
- Time with children is more important than money spent on them
- Create new traditions
If you’re interested in these ideas, and would like some more information, read on…
1 Plan ahead
Children welcome a sense of order and predictability – so plan ahead in good time!
- Sound out any extended family and friends who may want to put in their ‘bid’ for spending some time with the children over the Xmas period.
- Keep all extended family, grandparents, etc. involved during the holidays (even if it can only be through email, cards, phone calls). They are still an integral part of your children’s lives and provide them with continuity and security in the face of your changed family structure.
2 Don’t put pressure on children to choose between you
Children should always be able to love both parents and to share their time between them without feeling guilty.
- Think about how you are going to get the children’s input without putting them under pressure to choose between their parents, or between other members of the family.
- Present the children with your decisions as a ‘united front’ with the other parent, if you can.
3 Listen to the children
Listen to your kids; they may have ideas about how to make Christmas work for everybody.
If your kids are old enough to ask them directly how they want to celebrate the holidays, then this can lead to a natural discussion of what they’re thinking and feeling.
5 Talk it through with the other parent
Talk this through with your ex-partner when the children are not present, as heated discussions in front of them can only be upsetting for everyone.
- If you think you can, then sit down together with your diaries to record what’s agreed, avoiding future disputes.
- However, in our experience this is one of the most difficult things to talk about with the other parent, particularly for the first Xmas.
- Try to listen to one another’s ideas and opinions before responding.
- If something is said by the other parent that stirs up strong feelings try not to act on your immediate reaction.
- If necessary, ask for a break in the discussion and give yourself time to think things over.
- Instead of springing an issue or discussion on the other parent, it may be more helpful to let them know beforehand that you would like to do so – eg short phone message, text or email.
- If contact is made by phone or in person, before launching into a discussion, ask if now is a good time to talk. If not, arrange a mutually convenient time.
- Try to find a way to meet at least some of everyone’s needs.
Example – Susan and Peter agreed that would meet in middle of November to talk about the children, and would do their best to leave other issues out and concentrate solely on the decisions that needed to be made over the holiday period. They decided to meet in the Poppy Cafe on Friday afternoon when the grandparents were able to look after the children. They agreed to meet at 5pm and finish at 6pm. Before the day they emailed each other with the points they wanted to talk about, and they went to the meeting with their diaries.
More tips on how to communicate about difficult issues:
- If you are going to have a conversation by phone, consider the best time to arrange a conversation with the other parent to ensure that the children will not be able to listen in.
- If the telephone is too difficult (and it is for lots of people) many parents find email useful – it gives you time to think about what you want to say calmly – and you can print out the email afterwards.
- Keep your issues separate from your children’s feelings – you may feel very upset, but try to remain upbeat in front of the children and rely on close family or friends to let off steam in private.
6 Involve the extended family and friends
Family and friends can provide your children with compassion and coping strategies – this will help them not only through this holiday time but also long after the holidays pass.
- Present the extended family and friends with your decisions because they may need to be brought on board so that they understand what is going on and what you need from them.
- Insist that no-one tries to undermine the arrangements that you have decided to put in place, but be open to talking to people after the event as to what has worked and what has not, in order to be able to make things easier next time.
- Try not to communicate negative feelings about the other parent through your words or behaviour. Your kids will be taking their cues from both of you.
- Everyone needs to understand that this first holiday season after your divorce will be different.
7 Share the cost of big presents
- Money is often tight when you separate.
- Some parents make a joint effort to plan their children’s gifts rather than each getting separate ones so your children won’t be overindulged or let down.
8 Look after yourself
- Plan some ‘away dates’ at friends and family to get yourself out of the house (and the routine). These might become new traditions themselves, like visiting your best friend on Christmas Eve when you used to spend it at home.
- Perhaps you know another single parent may be alone at that particular time during Xmas with whom you could do something?
- When the children go to stay with the other parent – don’t make them feel guilty that you’ll be on your own. If you can’t spend the time with family or friends (maybe you live too far to travel to them), take a positive approach and tell the children how much you are looking forward to a few days to relax, emphasising that you want them to be happy.
- That doesn’t stop you from crying your eyes out once the door is closed – then picking yourself up and actually taking advantage of a little peace and quiet!
9 Time with children is more important than money spent on them
Christmas for kids isn’t about buying them lots of stuff!
- Don’t try to make up for your feelings of sadness by overwhelming children with expensive gifts.
- Some people encourage their children to make a special gift or card for the other parent – not only can it help the children feel happy and secure doing this but you’re demonstrating goodwill and a generous spirit as a role model for them.
- Find inexpensive ways to enjoy the holidays. Enjoy simple pleasures, such as hot chocolate after a snowball fight or watching classic Christmas movies together.
10 Create new traditions
- Maybe you could ask the children what Christmas traditions they want to keep. They may be attached to old family rituals – or the traditions may be too painful for your kids.
- Consider creating new Christmas family traditions.
- Traditions are terribly important to give a sense of ‘family’. These can disappear with a break-up.
- Create some new holiday traditions that your kids can look forward to doing with you
- Encourage the other parent to create his / her own different traditions as well.
- A different way is not always a worse way!
Examples of new patterns for Xmas
Tim and Sally decided that the children would spend alternate Xmas Days with each parent – alternating with Boxing Day each year. For the first Xmas, they decided that the children would spend Xmas day with Tim because since their separation the children had spent more time with Sally and had not spent much time with Tim’s parents. Tim collected the children from Sally’s house at 10 am on Xmas morning after they had opened their stockings with Sally and he brought them back to her house at 11am on Boxing Day. Sally had arranged a special lunch with her parents for 1pm that day so that the children could have a fun time with their gran and grandpa.
Rob and Melanie live in Cambridge. They agreed that Melanie would take the children to see her parents and siblings in Newcastle for the week leading up to Xmas. She brought them back to Rob’s house on Boxing Day afternoon. Rob then took the children to Kent for a few days to see his family. They agreed that the following year they would do this in reverse.
Dave and Jenny decided, having consulted with their children Vicky (9) and Charlie (11), that the children needed to see each of them on Xmas day. So Vicky and Charlie spent Xmas Eve through to Xmas lunchtime with Dave, and then Jenny collected them at 3pm on Xmas afternoon and they stayed with her until Boxing day afternoon.