Christmas is a stressful time of year for many of us. You might be facing presents and holidays to organise, food to arrange, and get-togethers with people you may not want to see.
Christmas has some extra challenges for separated families however, including shared custody, tighter budgets, time without your kids and an additional level of stress and organisation thrown in.
Trust me, I know how difficult this time of year can get – and how much emotions and interactions with others can spiral out of control!
Christmas and Separated Families
Let’s have a look at some of the challenges faced during Christmas and the holidays for separated families, and some tips that may help you to cope.
Is this your first Christmas since separating?
Christmas is traditionally such a family-focused time of year. So if this is your first Christmas since separating from your ex it will naturally feel weird, uncertain and new.
It’s important to look after yourself right now and your kids. This is the time for lots of extra hugs and kind words to remind yourselves that you are special and that Christmas can still be lovely even if it looks a bit different to usual.
This is a good time to start new family traditions if you have had to let go of old ones. If you live in a new area you could look for local light shows or carolling events that you can attend.
If you would prefer to ignore Christmas altogether you can do this too – plenty of restaurants, takeaways and places like the cinema are open on Christmas if you’d rather not think about it and do something else.
Get in early when making your plans including shopping, attending family events and making concrete plans for your kids’ care and custody arrangements. Organisation is key to reducing your stress this time of year – this applies to everyone.
Arrangements for children
Your parenting plan should set out what will happen in terms of custody around Christmas and the school and public holidays. This is often a time when your kids may go to their other parent if you have primary custody the rest of the time.
It is really important to check that you comply with the current court orders as there can be variations on what you think is going to happen.
There may be changes to what happens on the last day of school, including the time school finishes, or adjustments as to who has the kids on Christmas morning. What has always happened on weekends may change depending on when the public holidays fall.
Make sure that you have set down and agreed in writing to the arrangements of where the kids will be and when and how handovers will occur.
You may have to allow for extra time with their grandparents and extended family – now the kids may have double the amount of events and get togethers to go fit in.
If your kids are a little older, they might want to make some time to catch up with their friends for Christmas too. Their friendship group can become an important norm and place of support when their family relationship breaks down – so you could consider letting them organise a party with their friends.
Money is always tight for parents and tighter around Christmas time. It is harder still for single parents and families on one income. It’s important to keep an eye on your funds and not stretch yourself too thin.
It’s tempting to want to spend more right now to make up to your kids for the challenges of being a separated family. Track what you are spending and don’t go overboard – kids don’t need as many gifts as everybody thinks.
Look into smaller, more thoughtful and personalised gifts that show your kids you are engaged in their life and interested in what they enjoy – this sort of gift means a lot more than lots of expensive but less thoughtful ones.
Communicating with your Ex
Keep things civil and communication open with your co-parent as much as you can. Make sure plans are in writing to reduce mistakes and misunderstandings.
Schedule times when you will communicate with your ex and try not to be drawn into arguments. If you can help it, don’t send texts when you are especially upset or affected by alcohol – make sure you proof read messages and wait a few hours or even overnight before sending things.
More than anything right now – you need to look after yourself.
You cannot be a good parent if you can’t function. Take it easy on yourself about the little things and the worries that aren’t worth getting upset about.
Set time just for you, and also for you to connect with your own friends. If you will have a period of time without your kids over Christmas, make sure that you book something in for you to do so aren’t alone. Tell your friends if you are struggling and ask for extra help and support if you need it.
Try to eat as well as you can and don’t overindulge in alcohol. Keep an eye on the amount of exercise, sleep, fresh air and sunshine you are getting.
Christmas and Separated Families – Final Thoughts
If you get started early and make sure you write down and track everything you need to organise, you will be ok. Plan for time with your kids and also without them, and make sure you have options for supports even if you don’t end up needing them.
If you have questions or worries about how Christmas will work for your separated family, get in touch with me today.