Christmas is thought of as a time for families, with children singing carols and toasting marshmallows, whilst their parents look on lovingly. In fact, for many people, Christmas has never fitted this chocolate box image. And when you are going through a separation, it can be daunting to think about how you might handle Christmas.
Many of our clients ask for tips on handling Christmas post-separation and how to survive the festive period.
The first Christmas alone after separation is the most difficult. But what could you do this Christmas that you couldn’t do before?
You could consider volunteering for a local charity if you have the time. Doing something kind for someone else boosts serotonin levels–the hormone that helps us to feel content and satisfied. Many anti-depressants work by increasing serotonin levels in the body, so why not do something to help others and boost your feel-good levels at the same time? It is easy to concentrate on the things that you will miss–focus instead on the things you can change and the new traditions you might start.
Turn negatives into positives
What are you most dreading about Christmas? Once you know what the worst part of it is for you, then you can think about ways in which you might be able to overcome that bit.
What would you like instead? On a piece of paper, jot down any ideas that you have, however crazy. Then think about how you might be able to do some of those things. So, for example, you may not want to put decorations up and sit at home; instead, you could go on a holiday over Christmas and New Year.
Look for advice from family, friends, and colleagues
Do you know other people in your position? Knowing someone who has handled Christmas post-divorce successfully gives an opportunity to ask how they did it.
They may even be doing something that you can join in with. If you know them well enough, consider asking if they might like to combine your plans and you can do something together.
Make new Christmas traditions with your children
Shift your focus onto the time you and your children have together, rather than on the time you don’t.
If you don’t have your children on Christmas day, you could have an alternative Christmas on another day, with all the trimmings. Ultimately, Christmas Day is just a day, and you can have yours whenever you want.
Your children will almost certainly love the idea because they get a second Christmas. Get ideas from them about things they’d like to do, traditions they’d like to start. Focus on arranging a few things you will all enjoy.
Your children will take their cue from you. If you are stressed and negative, they will be too. If you are angry and resentful, they are likely to feel conflicted and stressed. When you are upbeat and make plans to do things that you all enjoy in the time you are together, they will do the same. When you frame this new reality positively, they will follow your lead.
Start planning well in advance
If you do not have plans in place now is the time to start. Talk to your ex-partner and agree on arrangements that work for you all.
It is a personal choice based on what works for your family, but also the age of the children, location and how amicable you are. And be prepared to be flexible as plans may need to change.
Make sure you share your plans with the children. Depending on the age of the children, ask them what they would like. Older children need to feel they have a voice. Once in place, sharing plans with the children means they know where they will be throughout the holiday, and the routine will make them feel safe and secure.
Creating a visual plan can help as dates can be difficult for a child to understand. One client created a Christmas themed wall planner for their younger children. A tech-savvy teenager may prefer a joint Google calendar.