For many people, the holiday period can be a particularly rough time of year.
We’re constantly reminded of the happiness and joy we should be feeling during the holiday season, yet often, many of us are experiencing feelings of loneliness, stress and anxiety.
These feelings of loneliness and stress can be particularly common for separated or divorced parents, especially when it is their first Christmas or holidays after divorce.
However, just because you’re no longer in a relationship with the other parent of your kids, it doesn’t mean that the holiday period has to be difficult or lonely.
Through communication, preparation and co-parenting, the holiday season can be a lot more enjoyable. Your holiday season may look a little different at first, but change isn’t always a bad thing.
To help make your Christmas holidays a more pleasant experience for you and your children, we’ve put together some information and ideas that may help to make co-parenting over the holiday season a lot easier.
How to survive the Christmas holidays after divorce
Plan, plan, plan
We all know the stress that comes with the holiday season, especially Christmas Day.
The last thing you need is more stress. So, when it comes to working out your holiday arrangements, especially spending time with your children, it’s important to get this sorted out sooner rather the later.
Where and with whom the children will spend their time with is one of the most common causes of disputes over the holidays, so it’s vital to work out the who, what, where and when of how children will spend their time.
Think about how you would like to spend time with your children and talk about this with your former partner. It’s a good idea to think of the reasons why you would like to spend time a particular way. And allow your former spouse to do the same. You may find that you have similar views or wants, or you may find that you’re far from being on the same page. But if you bring it up early, you give yourself time to work through your differences.
If you are on good terms with your ex, then you may be able to discuss in person or on the phone, but if you’re not on the best of terms, it’s still important to discuss this. You could communicate via email or potentially with a family member of theirs if you’re more comfortable to do that.
Even when you and your former partner do not get along at all, you both will undoubtedly have the best interests of the kids front of mind, so try to keep this mind when talking about the Christmas period.
Flexibility is vital
Parenting isn’t easy at the best of times, so when you’re trying to juggle some of the bigger holiday periods, like the Christmas holidays, with your former partner, it can be a mess. And all too often not much goes to plan.
While we did just say to plan ahead, as part of your planning ahead it can be beneficial to allow for leniency and for things to change. For example, Christmas and the holidays often bring family members that live far apart together, and your children may be particularly excited to see them, so you may need to compromise and negotiate with your former partner to make it work.
If you can, try to keep on top of the travel plans of your relatives and family members to avoid this happening as much as possible.
Communicate with your kids
Separation and divorce can be tough for kids, but they can also be a lot more resilient and understanding than we often give them credit for. This is why it’s important to keep the communication lines open with your kids.
If your kids are old enough to understand that their parents are no longer together and that the holidays are coming up, then it’s a good idea to have a conversation with them about your plans.
The holiday season is usually child-focused and the aim of the parents to ensure the kids have a good time, so it makes a lot of sense to bring them into the conversation and even discuss with them what they would like to do.
Some kids will want to spend time with both parents, whether it’s together or splitting their time between their homes, and some children may want to spend all or more of their time at one parents’ home. Don’t be upset by their answers, often a child’s reasoning may be somewhat simplistic or overly practical – for example, one parent may live closer to their friends.
Asking your child for their opinion makes them feel included, understood and that you have their interests in mind too.
When you do have the holiday arrangements sorted out, discussing these with your kids will also allow them to know what to expect and to feel prepared.
We’re not going to lie, the first holidays after divorce or separation in the new normal is going to be a bit difficult for you and your kids but allowing your kids to know what to expect and prepare themselves can make it a lot easier to manage.
Take care of yourself
The holidays are stressful as it is. When you add your first Christmas or holiday period as a separated parent, it can be extremely overwhelming, which is why ensuring you’re taking care of yourself is more important than ever.
Besides eating well and taking some time out for yourself, a great way to take care of yourself is to speak to a counsellor or therapist. They can help you work through your feelings and upcoming plans with no judgement.
You and your co-parent could also go to counselling together – though you’re not in a romantic relationship anymore, you are likely to have an ongoing relationship for some time and therapy sessions may help to avoid disputes and sort through problems before they become major issues.
Taking care of your mental health will not only make the holidays easier for you but also for your children too.
Christmas is not a competition
While it’s only natural to want to give your child the best holiday and Christmas experience, it shouldn’t come at the cost of the other parent.
Before you go ahead and buy any gifts or plan any activities, you need to discuss the details with your co-parent. You don’t want to turn Christmas into a competition – this can be bad for your relationship with your co-parent and may give your children overinflated expectations of the future holiday periods.
Talk about gifts, especially the ideas you may have for the bigger gifts. For example, if you’re considering giving them a mobile phone, gaming console, or even a car, this should be discussed with the other parent. It may be something that you purchase and gift to your child together. Not only does this put each parent on equal footing, but it also shows your child that you and your co-parent can work together.
Also, discuss activities and experiences. If your area has lots of holiday and Christmas activities, you probably want to book them all, but it’s a good idea to discuss them with your co-parent. You may be able to split the experiences and activities between you, they may not mind if you go to more events with the kids than they do, or you may find that you’re both comfortable to go to these events and activities together. Discussing activities is particularly important because you don’t want to necessarily double up on them as it may not be a great experience for a child to repeat them.
Start new traditions
No matter how you decide to celebrate the holiday season or how much change you and your children have experienced, it can still be a special time of year for everyone.
It’s important to establish positive feelings over the holiday period, especially in the early years of separation as you don’t want your child to associate the holidays with feelings of sadness.
You could talk to your kids about activities they have been wanting to try or you could think about what you enjoyed doing as a child during the holidays and use these ideas to start new traditions.
Just because your family has recently gone through a lot of change, it doesn’t mean that you can’t evolve and start new traditions. Anything can become a tradition, from cookie baking to markets, ice skating to making Christmas decorations.
This is a chance to make the most of the changes and experience new things.
Celebrate as a family
Celebrating Christmas or the holidays with your former partner may not be on the top of your list of things to do, but it might be an option worth considering.
This is completely dependent on your situation, the last thing you want is for everyone or anyone to feel uncomfortable and awkward, but having the shared interest of giving your kids a special holiday experience, may be more than enough motivation to come together as a family to celebrate the holidays.
It might not be possible in the first couple of years after a separation – and this is definitely ok – however, if you’re on good terms and comfortable to do so, then it can be a great experience for everyone. Your children can see that you get along and still act as a team when it comes to parenting – which can certainly help with co-parenting in general – and neither parent needs to feel left out during the holidays.
If you do decide to spend Christmas or the holidays after divorce together, it’s important to ensure that your children understand that you and your former spouse are not getting back together though. Families come in all shapes and sizes.
Possible holiday arrangements
A lot of pressure is put on the holidays, particularly the Christmas period, but when it comes to how you should celebrate as co-parents, there is no right or wrong answer.
What works for your family may not work for others, and that’s ok.
Here are some of the common co-parenting arrangements for their children during the Christmas holidays after divorce or separation:
Splitting time over Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxing Day
These three days are often the ones that cause the most disputes between separated parents. In these types of arrangements the children will spend time with one parent from Christmas Eve until Christmas Morning, then spend Christmas Day and Boxing Day with their other parent.
This option is particularly good when parents live relatively close to each other, as the kids don’t need to spend too long travelling on Christmas Day but they get to spend time with both parents on Christmas Day.
Often families will alternate the order of where kids will spend their time each year or depending on other traditions they may keep the same arrangement each year as Christmas Eve celebrations are common in lots of different cultures too.
Stay at one parents house over Christmas but visit with other the parent
Particularly common for people with young children, the child may stay with one parent but either go to the other parents house or have the other parent visit for a period of time during the day on Christmas Day. It’s common for younger kids to spend more time with the primary carer parent.
The children may spend time with one parent for the week that Christmas falls in and then spend the following week with the other parent. This tends to work best for families who may live further apart or where one parent may have to work during this time. This type of arrangement means that there is no travelling on Christmas Day and often people alternate the weeks each year.
Spending the whole holidays with one parent
This type of arrangement may see the children spend their holidays at only one of the parent’s houses. It’s not the most common arrangement, however, it’s a good option if one parent lives particularly far away. The parent the children are not spending Christmas with could celebrate early, or they could arrange to have their gifts sent to the other parent’s home and still Facetime or talk on the phone on Christmas Day.
No special arrangements
Some families also stick to their usual arrangements when it comes to the holiday season. This might be because it works for them or because their jobs make it more difficult to make special arrangements, or it might just be that Christmas and the holidays aren’t a traditional time of celebration for them.
We can help you
Don’t make the process anymore difficult than it already is and discuss your situation with a family lawyer. Here at Unified Lawyers, we’re highly experienced in helping people through separations and everything that comes with it. We can help you to understand your responsibilities to your former spouse and your children and ensure that you’re able to move forward with your life.
Call us today on 1300 467 661 or book a free consultation with us using the button below.