Kirsten Gronning and Jackie Walker are the 'Breakup Angels': leading UK relationship and divorce coaches and practitioners.
Jackie and Kirsten have spent several Christmases as separated and divorced parents now and they feel they've probably made all the mistakes to be made at this fraught time of year:
The most important lesson for us has been in recognising that less is better. We thought we’d share some messages we exchanged over New Year a couple of years ago which may help readers who are dreading the coming festivities.
Kirsten wrote: Having spent getting on for twenty pre-divorce Christmases in the Alps, I got used to not worrying overly about traditions and family visits and so on as we were away and largely did our own thing. Whilst it was always stressful getting there, once we were there it was always great - even, surprisingly, when the marriage was disintegrating.
So how does one 'do' Christmases when you no longer have the funds to do what you've always done? My first Christmas post separation was strange, but I got through with my and did a few things we would never normally have done: for me that meant watching Christmas films, something I never did. Since then, we stumbled along each Christmas time, having a good time and learning how to play the game and trying to ignore the fact we would love to be elsewhere.
This Christmas I decided I was too busy and too broke to send cards and buy umpteen presents. For those people I genuinely wanted to wish a 'Happy Christmas' I called, or e-mailed or met. My mother was delighted not to have yet another card to find a place for. For those people for whom sending a Christmas card also meant writing something meaningful and keeping in touch, I e-mailed them with my news. If I hadn't seen the sender or exchanged news for several years, I took the view that they obviously weren't an important part of my life and didn't need my card - or my news or greetings - and trusted I would drop off their list next year ( I did and I haven’t missed them and no doubt the feeling is mutual.)
I bought my three children a couple of presents each by shopping with them on one half day and on-line. They spent Christmas with their father - for the first time post divorce - and I was delighted to have Christmas alone. But well meaning friends and family were astounded: 'You can't have Christmas Day on your own, come to us' they declared. I appreciated the sentiment behind the invitation, but why can't I have the day on my own? Christmas dinner was on Christmas Eve with the kids - incidentally, a tradition of my Scandinavian childhood - and I relished my time alone on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
What did I learn? That by not trying too hard, our expectations were realistic and we weren't disappointed. If I'm honest, yes, I'd much rather be skiing but the reality is that we can't afford to and our Christmases work out fine. We saw good friends, went to a concert and Midnight Mass and learned not to expect too much. And when I ask friends how their Christmas was and they reply 'Oh, okay' and change the subject, I realise we've done just fine. But If I’m honest there’s a bit of me which would love to be watching those fireworks on the piste – dream on Kirsten, I will.
Jackie wrote: On the cards and present front, I swear to heaven you might have recorded me! My kids were told in advance that there would be hugs in boxes wrapped up last year (luckily Santa lent me a hand). I even went as far as buying some cards, and as I wrote them thought to myself what for - and like you picked up the phone.
To me the irony is that Christmas has been glitzed and glammed by the media and film to exude the image of perfection, even excellence! Anything short of that and you haven't got it right - the poor kids have expectations beyond measure and the poor parents feel pressured to make their otherwise fine home into something Homes and Gardens would be proud of photographing - it just doesn't stack, that's not what it's about - well I don't think so. What it's about it, as my youngest of 11 said to me, was 'don't worry Mum all the presents were bought with love.'
We spend Christmases with my mother as otherwise she'd be alone and with her health being less than perfect I wanted to make sure that the girls spent at least one more Christmas with her. We all make one another's Christmas and that’s enough. No excitement, a game of Monopoly, the inevitable TV shows, the Christmas crackers - you know it's enough just to be there. My New Year, like your Christmas was spent solo - what delicious heaven - and no hangover - in fact I'd a wall painted by 11.30am on the 1st!
There is something about wanting what you have and not looking over the shoulder - all things change and it might be uncomfortable, but then so can new shoes be until you wear them in.
To read more about the work that Kirsten and Jackie do, visit Breakup Angels
© Copyright Kirsten Gronning 2009. All rights reserved worldwide.