Christmas can be a stressful time even for happy families, but for fragmented ones it is often little short of a nightmare.
Quite apart from a ‘deserted’ spouse feeling emotionally bereft at the most family-orientated celebration of the year, the logistics of organising which parent should have the kids over the Festive Season can be traumatic.
The one thing you must never, ever do if your family unit has been ruptured by divorce or separation is to agree to a ‘handover’ of children on Christmas Day. This simply doesn’t work. It leaves the kids confused and upset and, as a consequence, no one enjoys the event.
Far better, in my opinion, is to agree with your estranged or ex-spouse that you’ll have the children every other Christmas. In the year you’re not having them, host a ‘tinsel and turkey’ weekend in mid-December instead, so that you get to share the excitement and enjoyment of Christmas, albeit ahead of time.
I know these work, because I’ve done them. So convincingly did I do it one year that when I heard people talking about their plans for Christmas, I was momentarily stunned: I’d done Christmas already!
I can only report that it worked remarkably well. Not only did I get to pull crackers and set fire to the Christmas pud with my kids, when the ‘real’ Christmas arrived, I had lots of invitations to drinks parties and meals which I was able to accept readily because I was a free agent. My children were with their father and I was able to enjoy the Festive Season as a grown-up. And my kids seemed none the worse for the experience of having two Christmases!
I have tried the alternative, too. I’ve sat round a Christmas lunch table with relatives and, as the handover hour approached, found myself getting increasingly tense. My parents, who hadn’t seen their son-in-law for a long time and were keen to do so, were also on tenterhooks: would they be seen as disloyal if they gave him a hug? The children were also ill at ease. They were careful not to appear over-eager to see their dad, yet at the same time not too unwilling to greet him. The tension was palpable and I wouldn’t recommend such a scenario to anyone.
So, if this is your first post-divorce Christmas, get organised. For those of you with children, take tips from what I’ve written above and resolve to make the best of Christmas through your kids’ eyes – even if they’re not physically with you – rather than your own.
For those of you without children to worry about, book yourself into a health farm, head off to warmer climes or get yourself invited to join in with the celebrations of close friends or relatives, where you will feel wanted and cherished. Don’t – and I stress don’t – agree to spend Christmas with your ‘nearest’ if you find them hugely irritating or unsympathetic. Being on your own is always preferable to being ‘alone’ in a crowd.
Lastly, never lose sight of the fact that New Year is just round the corner and that it is the ideal time to begin life afresh.