Many of us know that when parents separate, move apart or divorce it can be really difficult for everyone involved. There’s the obvious stuff, like where will you live? And how much time will you spend with your parents now? As well as the more emotional things, like will you feel closer to one parent over time? And what will happen if one of them meets someone else?
But all of this can be particularly tricky to deal with around Christmas time, especially if you and your family celebrated Christmas together before they separated.
But don’t worry, I know how it feels. And it feels, well, confusing! For starters, it doesn’t feel fair you have to change your Christmas traditions. But wait, it can feel exciting to have two Christmases to attend, promise. And it can also seem just plain sad when you have to arrange to see one parent for only a few hours – or even waaay before Christmas to fit in with other plans.
To make everything seem a bit more normal, I’ve charted the different thoughts you’ll have – and the inevitable stages you’ll go through – when you’re celebrating Christmas with divorced parents. Remember, you’re not alone.
How should I act?
Before you even begin planning and attending your different Christmases with different parents, you’re bound to start thinking what it’ll be like.
Whether you’re having one Christmas with one parent and another the day after, or a whole week with one and a whole week with another. Or just one Christmas with one parent and that’s that, it’s going to feel different.
Do we talk about the divorce?
Everyone is going through something different when it comes to separation and divorce. Some parents feel the decision was mutual and they both wanted it to happen. Others might feel sad and betrayed.
The same goes for the levels of communication. Some families discuss what’s going on openly, others don’t feel ready to for weeks or sometimes even years. Be patient with your parents. You can wait for them to bring up the subject or if you’re feeling a bit confused it’s totally fair for you to ask about what’s going on. I remember waiting until after we’d given presents and had Christmas dinner. I then asked calmly how everything was going. The key is: just do what feels right for you and your family.
It’s real Christmas, not fake Christmas
If, like me, you see one parent for “Christmas” when it’s not really Christmas (whether that’s on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day or a week after) I always find it’s good to pretend it’s Christmas Day anyway! Try to remember how it feels to be happy and festive and munching on a mince pie. Sure, everyone knows it’s not real, but if you try and make the most of it you’ll have so much more fun.
These aren’t our traditions!
Some families do different things every year, whether that means opening presents on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day night, or having chicken instead of turkey, or eating a mince pie round the fire. But some do the same thing year upon year and create Christmas traditions. When parents separate it can be tricky to keep those traditions going.
Let’s make new traditions
The great thing is, you can create shiny new traditions. This can feel a bit sad sometimes. I remember missing seeing my dad’s family on Christmas Day like we’d done for years. But at the same time you can do something else that feels new, fresh and enjoyable. Now, my mum, my brother and I will always go for a big walk on the beach on Christmas Day wrapped up in our snuggly new scarves and gloves.
Stop embarrassing me and overcompensating
Newsflash: parents are humans too. If you’re feeling sad and confused about the separation, chances are they’re feeling the exact same way. This means your parents might be acting a bit weird because they want to pretend everything is normal. I get it, this can be really annoying – not to mention embarrassing. But remember that most of the time they’re being that way so you’ll have fun and be happy.
When do we have to leave?
If you’re on a tight schedule and have to see a parent, some cousins, your friends, your grandpa and another parent again all in one day, keeping an eye on the time can feel stressful. Make sure you have a rough idea of your plan before Christmas Day so you’re not rushed.
But I want to stay!
But even with the best plans, you’re bound to want to spend more time with one parent or relative. This well and truly sucks. But try your best to make the most of every minute, then arrange to see your mum or dad or gran again. Like having a NYE party instead or meeting for a big fry-up on New Year’s Day.
Maybe everything is OK?
Although everything can feel like a big mess after a divorce, it’s normal for things to feel OK as well. It doesn’t mean you’re betraying one parent if you have fun with another. Let yourself enjoy the new traditions, the awkward conversations and the busy schedule. You’ll be OK.
We’re all going through very different situations. Parents that are together, parents that are apart. Some of us have siblings, others don’t. Some of us live with other relatives and don’t see our parents at all at Christmas. A great thing I try and do when it all feels a bit overwhelming is try to name just three things I’m grateful for. During the first Christmas I spent with my parents after their divorce I was grateful for my brave little brother, both of my parents and getting to have TWO Christmas puddings.
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