Christmas is the time of year when the focus is all on family and while that is great for lots of reasons, it does also make it much harder for those who can’t be with their loved ones on the big day.
So whether you’re recently separated or have been divorced for ten years, it is understandable that co-parenting over the holidays can be tricky. Especially if that means being without your children.
“Even if you’ve sailed through other aspects of separation, Christmas without your children can be when the reality hits you, hard and right where it hurts,” Rowan Davies, a Mumsnet spokesperson, told The Huffington Post UK.
“So if you’re dreading a lonely 25 December this year, here are 9 ways to help you get through Christmas day without your little ones.
1. Make a plan well in advance.
If you’re in a co-parenting situation with an ex-partner then make sure you plan your holiday periods well in advance. Perhaps you have devised a year-on-year-off rota, or you make plans depending on annual circumstances. But just ensure you don’t have it sprung on you a week before Christmas that you won’t be seeing your children when you thought you were.
Susan Moore, Head of Advice at Gingerbread, a support charity for single parents, said: “This can make things easier and less emotional. If your children are old enough, include them in the planning to help them feel more secure about how things will work out.
“Draw up a schedule together showing who is doing what and when. Try to be flexible if things don’t go quite as planned.”
2. Have your own Christmas day.
If this is a year you won’t be spending Christmas day itself with your children, then choose another day to have your own ‘special’ Christmas day. Whether you do this on Boxing day or earlier in December, your children will relish the prospect of doing it all twice. Double presents!
“It doesn’t have to be anything expensive – an afternoon of silly games or a trip to the park can give you all time to relax and enjoy each other’s company,” said Moore.
3. Establish a time you can talk to your children.
The build-up to Christmas can feel like it drags on forever, but the day itself always goes by in a flash. Especially when you’re a child caught up in the excitement of presents and spending time with family.
So if you won’t be with your child on the day, make sure you agree a set time that you can call or Facetime them – even if it is only a brief chance to wish them a Merry Christmas – otherwise you might struggle to get hold of them on the day, which makes things harder.
4. Never tell your children you are lonely.
You might feel it, but telling your children that you are lonely, even if it’s just because you feel you can’t contain it, is not a good idea.
“You may well spend the day feeling tearful, but when you’re reunited with the children, you need to imply that you’ve had a great time,” explained Davies. “Not as great as if they’d been there, of course, but great nonetheless.”
5. Remember your children will have a good day whoever they are with.
Many single parents worry that the children will have a less enjoyable day with their ex-partner, especially if their kids have expressed this to them. But be fair to your ex and remember they deserve time with their child too. In the end, your child will have a good time no matter what happens.
Siobhan Freegard, founder of ChannelMum, advised: “Remember how blessed your child is to have two sets of family who love them, cherish them and want to make Christmas special for them. It’s twice the love.”
6. Focus on the lie-in.
Remember Christmas before kids? When it was all presents, getting drunk and falling asleep on the sofa? Well it’s back!
Davies said: “You can have champagne at breakfast and sleep straight through lunch.
“You’re under no obligation to provide four different kinds of potatoes. Nobody will be over-tired and showing off by 3pm (unless you have unusual friends). You can actually go out for a nice walk, instead of dragging a toddler for 100m before returning in a temper.”
7. See other people and start new traditions.
Start your own traditions, which you can look forward to on your child-free Christmases.
Try to see family members who you might have missed otherwise, go on a road trip to visit distant relatives, volunteer at a soup kitchen, host other people who you would have found too stressful with the kids around, or just go for a walk and enjoy some peace and quiet.
Davies suggested: “Some holiday companies specialise in Christmas breaks for singles.
“Or you may have some friends in the same boat who fancy a budget-busting posh Christmas lunch in the kind of restaurant that doesn’t provide crayons with the menus.”
8. Relax and take care of yourself.
How many other days of the year do you get to spend a day being completely self-indulgent? Why not try making yourself an adult hamper? Full of luxury chocolates (that you are not obliged to share with anyone), pyjamas and your favourite festive film.
“As a parent, it’s easy to concentrate on your child’s needs and forget your own,” said Moore.
“If your child is with relatives or friends, why not take the opportunity to relax, even just for a few hours?
“Don’t be afraid to talk to friends and family about how you feel and ask for help if you need it – they may not know unless you tell them.”
9. Remember there is support and you’re not alone.
“We’re encouraged to view Christmas as a mystical encapsulation of everything that’s happy, wholesome, trouble-free and family-related, but for lots of people it’s not,” said Davies.
“If you’re struggling, you’re in good company; people who’ve been bereaved, people in unhappy situations, people who’ve lost their jobs or who have money worries, people who can’t stand sprouts… Christmas is difficult for lots of people and you’re perfectly entitled to feel bad. Have a good old wallow if you need to.”
Although it might feel it right now, you aren’t really alone. Your children will be back before you know it.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to friends and family about how you feel and ask for help if you need it,” said Moore. “They may not know unless you tell them.”
Or if you’d rather speak to someone outside of your friends and family, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 for 24/7 over-the-phone support.