It’s your first Christmas as separated parents. What must you avoid to make it work for the kids and yourself?
With Christmas fast approaching and tens of thousands of families facing their first Christmas since separating, we are reminded of the many questions which come up year after year and which all too often have their basis in overwhelm, distrust for their partners and lack – lack of time, lack of finance, and lack of confidence in own abilities.
There’s no magic wand to making your first Christmas as separated parents work for you and the children and it’s no point in being prescriptive because everyone’s situation is very different. But there’s one simple, overriding factor which will make a difference all round to your enjoyment – and that this: if the parents are less stressed, then the children will be less stressed and everyone will enjoy it more.
But how do you reduce the stress? It may sound simple but it may not be easy: by avoiding things which will lead to stress levels rocketing. Here are the top five things to avoid this Christmas if you want to be calm and in control.
- Would you willingly share your Christmas meal with someone you dislike or distrust? So why would you consider inviting your soon-to-be-ex if this is how you feel about them? If it’s because you feel sorry for him or her, or because they can’t get their act together and they’ll be all alone, ask yourself: whose responsibility it is to change this? Is it yours? Really? What if she/he is ill at ease? Or argumentative? How will that make you feel? How will it make the kids feel?
If you’re still undecided: Take a sheet of paper, divide it into 2 columns and head it up: Advantages of Inviting vs. Disadvantages of Inviting. List at least 5 replies in each column (if you can find this many.) Now go back to each one and ask yourself – is that really true? Then ask yourself: ‘How do I know that?’ You might be surprised at the answer. For instance, if you might have put under Advantages: ‘The kids will enjoy having him/her here’ but when you second question it, by asking ‘Am I absolutely sure?’ and ‘How do I really know that?’ you may get a different perspective.
Finally ask yourself “How much do I really want to invite him/her on a scale of 0-10 (with 0 being ‘absolutely not’ and 10 being ‘I wouldn’t dream of not inviting him/her.)” This may give you a new benchmark and the courage to follow your instincts.
- Launching yourself into Christmas frenzy because “we’ve always ‘done’ Christmas properly/this way” – eg. the drinks party on Boxing Day; 58 presents for 30 family members; the ham and the stilton and homemade mince pies and Christmas pudding and cake. Not forgetting of course immaculate decorations, costumes for the kids plays and the 12 guests on Christmas Day itself.
If the thought of doing it all is making you ill, but the notion of not doing it all seems impossible, perhaps it’s time to face what change means. Facing change needs courage and finding courage means being able to face your fears. If that’s a tough call on your own, seek help from a coach who is skilled at asking the powerful questions which can quickly help you to uncover what is stopping you from adjusting to a new situation and removing those things, so that you can make new choices about what’s right for you and your family this Christmas without wearing yourself into the ground.
What must you keep and what can you drop? What’s the worst that will happen if there isn’t a drinks party at your place this year? If you bought M&S rather than opened a recipe book? Or if all 30 people didn’t get a present from you? If you can’t invite anyone, or if you were to ask for an invitation to someone else’s dinner table? There are always other possibilities – but first you will have to face up to the fact that to see them you will need to embrace change.
- Assuming that just because the kids aren’t with you this Christmas, their needs won’t be met or – conversely - they’ll have fun without you and you can’t bear that. If there’s been mistrust in the marriage or relationship and especially if there’s been an acrimonious divorce, chances are neither of you will be happy with the terms of the divorce or any orders for the children. Differing views on what is best for the kids come to the fore at holiday time when children often spend longer periods with the parent without residence.
If you worry unnecessarily about them whilst they are away from you, you will inevitably pass those fears onto your children and affect their ability to have fun, or even want to go and visit. Keep your reservations to yourself and firmly ask yourself whether you are trying to prevent the child from seeing their other parent and if so, why? If it’s because you are feeling sad, lost or angry, is it fair to transfer this to the child?
By all means keep a watch for any instances of needs not being met and bring these to the ex’s attention in a non-confrontational manner, but your priority must be to relax so that you can enjoy your parents’ company and your children when they are with you.
If the kids aren’t with you, get used to it now by looking forward to treating yourself to some down time - a well deserved break from childcare routines. Spend the time nurturing yourself with long baths, late lie-ins and relaxing on the settee with those books and films you never got around to reading or watching. You’ll be rewarded by being rested and appreciate each other that much more by having that break away from one another.
- Obsessing about what the ex is doing, especially if she/he has a new partner. Wiki forums cover this subject over and over – look at and learn from others experiences but remember your situation is always going to be different. Often time and reflection are the greatest healers, especially if there have been affairs on the part of your ex.
How do you feel if the children mention the new partner? Angry? Hurt? Lost? Sad? How do you stop obsessing about what he/she is doing without you at Christmas? Here are some tips:
· Stop obsessing now. It’s making you a victim, and victims have no power.
· Take responsibility for your part in the breakup. Both parties have a part to play in a breakup, what’s yours?
· Think about how you were when you were first attracted to each other. How have you changed? How much would you like to get that person back? What can you do to become more like the person you want to be?
· You can do little to influence your ex’s life now – but you can change yours. It’s down to you to change the way you react by changing the way you view the breakup.
· Make sure your adverse feelings aren’t impacting on the children – it isn’t fair on them and it won’t do your relationship with them any good either..
- Having a ‘slumber day’ that does into another, into another and another.... I love days where I deliberately cut myself off from the laptop and turn off my mobile and in an ideal world, I’d go back to bed too for the day (but I never quite manage that bit!) Whilst it’s good to take to your bed for a day or two, if it becomes a habit, depression may be setting in and you are unlikely to be reading self-help articles.
Be aware that your first Christmas as a separated parent can be a trigger for depression to kick in big-time, especially if you face it on your own, or if you are in conflict over the split. If there is any question in your mind about the way you are feeling and how you are managing it, seek help fast. Read up what the symptoms of depression are and apply them to yourself and follow the options recommended.
Now that your awareness is raised, it’s worth reinforcing that it’s your responsibility to look after your mental health – yes, your mental health. That’s all about your feelings, and how your feelings influence the way you feel and the way you subsequently react. Once we learn how to take the negative emotions out of a situation, we feel less bad, and we can react in a less confrontational way. That might mean asking for our needs to be met in a more assertive way which doesn’t trample on others and it might mean improving the way we communicate better in relationships, even the most entrenched conflict situations.
You may no longer believe in a magical Christmas but it is amazing how hitherto irresolvable conflict can be magically transformed once awareness is raised and new strategies and techniques employed.