Christmas arrangements for separated parents

Originally published on 16th December 2020 at 1:55 PM
Reading time: 6 mins
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At a time when we’re overloaded with social media images of cosy families in matching Christmas PJs sitting around the tree, showing joy and togetherness. You may well find yourself navigating the difficult terrain of logistics, doubling up of presents, who gets to wake up with the kids or perhaps it’s your first Christmas alone after separation, which can be especially tough.

"Divorce and separation will bring so many new challenges and an immense amount of change. How you choose to embrace that change is up to you. Sometimes it will be easy, other times it will feel unfair - but as the saying goes…we cannot change the cards we’re dealt, but we can control how we play our hand."

Sorting out child arrangements for separated parents – a personal lockdown story

I am a huge I’m a huge believer in confronting your pain and feelings and hitting rock bottom to then start rising, growing, and becoming stronger. Being challenged takes us to places that show us that we have strength, resilience and tenacity, all amazing life enhancing qualities. In my experience you will not hit ‘rock bottom’ only once after your separation. As your year progresses, you will be confronted with so many situations and scenarios that are new as a separated parent. These include special celebrations such as Christmas. And as newly separated parents, Christmas arrangements can be incredibly challenging to sort out.

Last year I experienced my first Christmas away from my sons. I was not only away from them, but we were also in two completely different parts of the world with different time zones. They were with their father and new stepmother on holidays, and I returned to my family in Australia surrounded by my niece and nephews, family, and friends. It was a series of events and discussions that lead to this point. I knew because of our living arrangements a shared Christmas was not possible. I also thought that one of us was going to be alone. If it wasn’t me, it would be their dad.

I realised that my ability to empathise with him at this time of year was a big step forward into resetting our future. I decided to do everything possible to enable our sons to holiday with him, but still feel and enjoy the Christmas holiday spirit with me and simply have an alternative Christmas. I also realised that my attitude largely influenced their acceptance of the festive holiday plans. 

I shed some tears as I missed them and felt detached, but I also knew they were happy, safe, and having fun.

This year I will no doubt be in lockdown but will have my boys with me. I have already started planning and discussing arrangements with their dad. Christmas gifts have been ordered and delivered. I offered to wrap them on his behalf. I said we will facetime at the moment of unwrapping so he can see their delighted reactions in real time. We will have joint video calls to extended family and I will let him entertain them virtually whilst I’m preparing the turkey and busy in the kitchen. We will ask Alexa to play Christmas music and most probably fall asleep watching a movie after taking our dog for a long walk. Their dad will absolutely be a part of our day which I know he’ll love, but even more importantly, the boys will.

One thing we’ve all learned over the pandemic is that technology can be embraced in a very human way. We can interact and share our ordinary moments easily rather than saving them up for that special time together. Use this technology to your advantage and enjoy it, because the other thing 2020 has taught us is that life can be unexpected, and often tragically short.

My top tips your first Christmas alone after separation:

  • Accept that this year is unique and different. Think about making the time special rather than focusing on what is missing.
  • Acknowledge and allow yourself to accept that at times it will be emotionally difficult.
  • Plan your time so you have a combination of being busy and celebrating with family and friends but also some time out to deal with your mixed emotions.
  • Have a ‘build up’ of Christmas activities prior to saying goodbye before the actual day. Supplementing their traditional chocolate advent calendar, I did an activity advent calendar. Every night I would write an activity for the next day. Here are some examples: sing me a Christmas carol, build a gingerbread house, bake cookies, write to Father Christmas, make a personal decoration for the tree, decorate cookies, prepare a small hamper of essentials for someone in need, watch ‘The Polar Express’. The activities can be as imaginative as you wish.
  • Start some new traditions to create your own personal memories.
  • Accept that your ex-partner will most probably start their own unique traditions too. Don’t judge, don’t compete, celebrate that the kids will be excited and happy.
  • Discuss the gift giving and make sure you’re not doubling up or being outrageously generous because of your feelings, as opposed to their needs or desires.
  • Do something you have always wanted to do or something different for yourself - for example: Travel or have a spa day.
  • Give something back. Volunteer or donate your time, food, unwanted things to someone in need.
  • Try to avoid unsupportive people and focus on working towards feeling stable and secure.
  • Spend some time reflecting on how far you have come and realise that one of you had to be away from your children. Remind yourself that emotions are a source of information.
  • If you’re sharing the day, discuss well and truly in advance, timings and what the kids will need to pack. Most importantly, share this information with the kids to ensure there aren’t any unexpected surprises (except the presents of course).
  • Never use the children as a pawn to gain ‘one-up’ or to hurt or punish your ex. This is totally counter-productive and it’s not in the children’s best interests. Remember to cooperate with your ex. It’s all about putting your children first.
  • Keep up with your self-care routine - exercise, sleep, diet and grooming etc.
  • Know that this new way of celebrating will become easier with time.


Should separated parents spend Christmas together?

Ultimately, it comes down to what is best for you and your children. However, if it’s the choice between a negative atmosphere and alternative Christmas arrangements, it’s better for everyone if the kids have two Christmas Days, one for each parent, on which both mum and dad are happy.

How do separated parents do Christmas together?

The key to successfully sharing Christmas is to keep the focus on your children. Create a plan together that allows them to feel loved and supported by both parents during this special time. Encourage open dialogue with your children, so they feel comfortable expressing their feelings and desires for the holiday.

How do you avoid family conflict at Christmas?

No matter which family style you have, whether you’re co-parents, a blended family, have a nesting arrangement or something else; avoiding family conflict at Christmas is something that’s important not just for the children, but for everyone involved. Remembering to prioritise the needs and wishes of the kids on Christmas Day is essential. They don’t want to be surrounded by family who are arguing and generally, making the day unpleasant.

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Comments (3)

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18.12.2020 22:26

thoughtful, insightful and brave- thank you for sharing. I hope it assists you as well as many others at what can be a very difficult time of year

18.12.2020 23:14

Great insights Suz - it’s a really challenging time for separated families and you’ve bravely shared your story and given some excellent tips. Your boys are lucky to have such an insightful and wise mum.

Tina Riehle
19.12.2020 2:47

Loved reading this Suzanna. Very well written and explained and I am touched how you make it work in the most positive way. Merry Christmas to you and the boys. Xoxo