Tips for separated parents at Christmas

We all have dates which mean a lot to us – birthdays, holidays, Christmas, Eid etc. Often these dates will have been family-based celebrations. After a break up or separation, it can feel hard to imagine how you'll spend them happily in the future, especially if there are children involved. Here's our guide for coping with holidays after a break-up.

Negotiating after separation.

Just the thought of having to ‘share’ the children on their birthdays for example can feel really tough and negotiating with your children's other parent about how you deal with significant dates may be challenging and painful. However, it's likely to help you and your children have a better experience in the long run.

Just the thought of having to ‘share’ the children on their birthdays was really hard. I never thought I’d have to think about something like that and it tore me up because my ex didn't live nearby.
counselling client

How to build new routines and rituals

The first year of separation will bring lots of firsts with it, for example the first Christmas or Eid apart. The routines and rituals associated with these celebrations will all need to be renegotiated. 

Other one-off events like weddings or school celebrations may also prove challenging. Where you can, it can help if you and your child's other parent can both attend special events. Your child would want you both there. 

Other special days you might decide to alternate: one year with one parent, the next with the other. You could also decide to split the day. Whatever you do, you're establishing new routines and creating new family rituals. Though the children will miss having you both together on special days, over time and with some really positive collaboration between you and your ex, new ways of celebrating will begin to feel like the norm and OK. Don't forget to plan something special for yourself too if you're missing seeing your children on a special day. 

Discuss, agree, and stick to a plan

Everyone, including the kids, needs to know what’s happening and when.

Try this activity to help you plan what will happen on special dates: 

  • List the dates or events that are really important to you, not forgetting the ones your children think are important. 
  • For each event, think about things from your children’s perspective. What might they want? 
  • For each event consider which solutions might work for your family, such as: 
    • Both parents can be present e.g., mum and dad coming to a birthday party. 
    • Children see both parents at different times of the day, or on a different day e.g., Christmas morning with one parent, Christmas lunch with the other.
  • Keep an open mind. Your ex will have a wish-list of their own too. 
  • Arrange to meet your ex when you feel you’re prepared and the children aren’t around. Keep negotiations business-like and practical. 
  • Once you’re agreed, explain to your children what will happen and list the significant dates on a calendar so you and the children can see them. Listen carefully to any fears or concerns they may have and try to answer any questions honestly. 
  • It can be wise to be prepared for any changes that could happen, such as illness or work changes. 
  • Most of all, even if things remain difficult with an ex, try and remember that the kids need to love both of you. Keeping a child friendly focus to any discussions with your ex is more likely to help everyone manage the break up and what comes next positively. 

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