“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” so the song goes. With the end of the school year, the endless to-do lists and navigating family dynamics it can also be the most stressful time of the year. What about if you’re separated – either during this year, or if this is the first year where you won’t be spending time with your children at Christmas?
Separation and divorce can be a time of enormous upheaval both personally and financially. Long established traditions of how your family spend Christmas can dramatically change.
Below are some helpful practical tips we give to clients to help them through this time of year:
Make your own traditions
Families come in all shapes and sizes, and are not just the nuclear family we see on the Christmas cards and movies. This is an opportunity to make a You Shaped Family! Think about new traditions you would like to create as a single parent family.
It might be you have a special night on Christmas Eve – where the kids receive a present box with new summer PJs, Christmas themed snacks to share with Santa and the reindeer, and you watch a Christmas movie together or bake Christmas snacks together.
You might change how you celebrate Christmas – rather than being at home you might want to have your Christmas dinner out, and that can be anything from a restaurant (no washing up!) to a picnic at the park or at the beach. Maybe you always wanted to have Christmas away somewhere else but weren’t able to due to family commitments. This is the time to dream up something that you can all enjoy and the only limit is your imagination!
Santa works flexible hours
You read that right! Santa is busy on 24 December, but he does do visits outside of these times. Parenting agreements or orders sometimes have children waking up with one parent on Christmas Day, and going to sleep at the other parent’s house that night, allowing for time with each parent on the big day. (Tip – make your changeover either 11.00am or 5.00pm or around these times – changeovers at 2.00pm or 3.00pm can be a disaster – many people have lunch starting at these times)
Other times, parenting orders will have children spending odd years with one parent, and even years with the other parent. Especially where the parents live some distance apart, in some cases interstate or overseas, time for both parents on the day is not possible.
This is an opportunity to be creative! Santa can come on a different day, either before or after Christmas and all of the same things that happen on the big day can happen on your chosen day. This has huge advantages. We have had Santa come as early as 21 December. You can then spend the rest of the holiday period feeling relaxed and ahead of the game. Santa needs to come later? No problem! You have the added bonus of enjoying the Boxing Day sales for those last minute gifts and stocking fillers. Depending on the ages of your children, you can make a lot out of “I texted Santa to arrange the day for him to come to our house” – also known as I have Santa’s mobile number so everyone needs to be good around here…
Looking after you
What if you are alone on Christmas Day? The endless movies, retailer and media pressure have conditioned us to think that we have to have a perfect Christmas or we have somehow failed. Where you are isolated from family, grieving the end of your relationship, or spending the day alone due to your parenting arrangements, there are some practical tips to get you through.
One year, living and working interstate, I couldn’t return to Melbourne for Christmas due to work commitments. I felt sorry for myself for a good couple of weeks! Then I started to think about my circle of friends I had made in the 18 months living there. Expats, single parents, people with family estrangements and the list went on. What did these people do for Christmas? I had no idea. Christmas is one of those holidays where it’s arguable the lead up is better than the day.
So an idea was born – Orphans Christmas! Come one come all – all welcome. And they did. Some stayed for a drink, some stayed for lunch, some for dinner, and some for the lot. It was a happy bunch of people who either didn’t have firm plans or had some they weren’t thrilled about and everyone agreed they’d had a great time.
Day to yourself
If you are alone and would prefer to keep it that way – 25 December is just another day on the calendar. Maybe it’s a day you want to spend alone watching movies or reading a book or enjoying time to yourself. Maybe you plan breakfast or a walk with a friend or maybe just some well earned R & R.
Pact with a close friend
Maybe you have a friend who is separated or divorced and facing the same challenges with parenting arrangements as you. It can be comforting to make a pact that you will be together on Christmas no matter what. It might be you spend time with your friend and their children, or yours, or both. Anything is possible in making new traditions.
There are many charity organisations looking for help on Christmas Day and during the whole Christmas period, and they warmly welcome volunteers to lend a hand.
Christmas Day can be a great day to travel as no-one does it! Now that the international and state borders are open this can be an opportunity to go somewhere you’ve really wanted to go for the past two years, and often at great rates as most people like to travel either right before or right after Christmas!
Separation can be a difficult time, and the pressures of Christmas can magnify that. It’s not confined to your first Christmas separated either. Sometimes you can plan and prepare for the first Christmas separated only to find that the second or later ones are more difficult for you than the first. Try the tips above, and remember, it’s just a day, and there will be another one along next year.
Carol is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law, as well as being the mother of 4 children who were aged between 5 and 11 when she separated from her first husband.