The first Christmas following a separation can be a difficult time for children and parents alike. Deciding who the children will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with is often a source of conflict between ex-spouses.
The first Christmas following a separation can be a difficult time for children and parents alike. Deciding who the children will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with is often a source of conflict between ex-spouses. For social worker and family mediator Claudette Guilmaine, it’s important to be flexible and creative. “Why not have more than one Christmas celebration, even just to shake up your traditions a bit? You can just as easily celebrate a day or two earlier or later—your kids won’t know the difference. For them, it’s all about having fun and getting gifts!”
If you’re separated and living far apart, the best solution is to have your kids spend Christmas with one parent and New Year’s Day with the other. Just be sure to tell them as soon as possible how things are going to work so that they feel secure. “One idea is to hang a calendar that you draw a little mom or dad on, based on the agreement you’ve made with your ex,” suggests Nadia Gagnier. “These visual cues will help them see where they’re staying in the coming days, which will reassure them.”
It’s important, however, not to tell your kids that you’re sad you don’t get to spend Christmas Day with them, as it may make them feel guilty for abandoning you.
“What I like most about Christmas are the gifts and eating Mommy’s cookies.”
Lastly, especially if you’re living with a new partner, be sure to tell your kids that, even though you’re separated from their other parent, it doesn’t mean you love them any less.
Celebrating with your ex?
For the kids’ sake, some parents choose to spend the holidays together. This may not be the best idea, warns Guilmaine: “If you’re not emotionally ready to see your ex again, don’t force it. If things go badly, it could have negative consequences for your children.”
If, despite it all, you do decide to spend Christmas together, make sure you explain to your children that, although you’ve stayed friends, this is not the norm, adds Guilmaine. Don’t give them false hope that you’re getting back together, especially if your separation is recent. At the same time, Guilmaine notes that if you can put your differences aside to buy your kids a joint gift, they’ll be thrilled.
According to Guilmaine, if you’ve decided to celebrate Christmas separately, a good way to keep the magic of Christmas alive is to create your own traditions. “A breakup is a good opportunity to start fresh. Ask yourself: ‘What would I like to do with my kids?’ The answer could be heading out for a walk in the woods or going sledding, then wrapping up the day with chocolate fondue. Choose something fun that you’ll enjoy—don’t be a martyr, otherwise you could ruin the celebration.”
Put a twist on an old tradition or try something new—just don’t sit at home and sulk. This advice also holds true for parents who are spending their first Christmas or New Year’s Day alone, says Gagnier.
Source: Naître et grandir magazine, December 2013
Research and copywriting: Marie-Josée Cardinal
Scientific review: Diane Dubeau, professor of psychoeducation and psychology, UQO