Christmas for separated parents
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…………….”
These are the famous opening words of one of the most popular novels by Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”.
The novel is not about Christmas but those words have a bitter sweet relevance for some in the Christmas period. Although Christmas has little religious significance for many people nowadays, it certainly continues to evoke ideas of a happy family time with Father Christmas, presents, plentiful quantities of food and wine, jollity, laughing children and - if Christmas cards are anything to go by - snow outside and a burning log fire inside.
Sadly, for some, Christmas can be the very antithesis of a happy time. For example, those who are alone, perhaps recently bereaved or separated, are very often the ones who are particularly affected by loneliness, often accompanied by a strong remembrance of and longing for times past when they were in a happier place.
This can be particularly so for parents who are now single following separation and whose children are spending Christmas elsewhere. Some in that position can find this a daunting and emotional time. This is probably even more so in this time of covid.
Family lawyers regularly see clients who are in this position. Based on their experiences, the following suggestions have emerged which have proved useful to many.
Think about how you will manage the practical arrangements and particularly those for the children. Depending on their ages, do not give children too much room for choice. They are very perceptive about the moods of their parents and will usually try to please the parent standing in front of them.
Agree arrangements with the other parent well in advance and stick to them. Children like nothing worse than broken promises.
Put the interests of the children first
For the sake of the children, maintain a positive attitude. Do not openly criticise their other parent.
Do not “compete” with your former partner over the size or value of presents.
Try to keep calm
In the run up to Christmas, if you know that you are going to be alone and find the prospect daunting, try to find ways that suit you to manage stress
Many people find meditation and/or mindfulness helpful.
A simple distraction such as a walk or run can be very restorative, even if the weather is bad. If these activities are not practical, even light indoor exercise will often prove mood enhancing.
If you find that you have time on your hands, find activities to keep you occupied and your mind busy. Pursue a hobby; start to learn a new skill which you have regularly promised yourself but for which you have never found the time; buy a notebook and write down how you are feeling every day and some recollections from Christmases in the past, perhaps from the time when you were young; buy a paint box and brushes and see what you can create; redecorate a child’s bedroom.; read a good book and then write down what you thought of it.
Take time for yourself: give yourself a treat
Accept only the invitations that appeal to you; don;t try to keep everyone happy!
Keep a clear head for all that thinking and the activities. Too much alcohol is almost certainly a bad idea and none is, of course, the rule if you have to drive.
Find something different to do
This is a fresh period of your life: try something new. Change the usual Christmas menu or be entirely different. Volunteer to help the homeless or visit (covid permitting) someone else who is alone or in difficulty.
This period will pass, probably more quickly than you imagine. Think about what you would like to achieve in the next year - not in the way of unrealistic dreams but things that you could really manage. This is your new way of life, at least for the time being: think how to make the best of it.
Follow all or even some of these ideas and you may well have a very Happy Christmas.
And by the way, “A Tale of Two Cities” has a wonderfully reassuring ending line, as well:
‘It is a far far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
If you or anyone you know, are affected by the issues raised above and would like more information or some preliminary, confidential advice, please contact one of our experienced experts in our family team by e-mail or telephone.