How to navigate Christmas as a separated parent

Divorce and co-parenting or parallel parenting is never easy. Christmas can be a particularly hard time – emotionally and practically.  How to navigate Christmas as a separated parent  will help. There’s a lot of pressure to create ‘the perfect Christmas’ for children, which raises the stakes. Throw in debates about who will be where and when, whether new partners are involved, how much money is being spent and who’s getting which presents and you have the recipe for a festive storm. The first thing to remember is there’s no blueprint for a perfect Christmas – whatever your circumstances: separated family, single, without children, happily married with a brood of five. Christmas, for all of us, is what we make it.  Here’s how to lower the tension and treat yourself kindly this Christmas season. You might also find 5 Steps for Surviving Christmas as a Divorced Woman useful:

A Different Christmas

Accept that things will be different this year. Perhaps in the past you always followed certain traditions that aren’t possible now. Allow yourself time to grieve for those times, but return to the present. Different doesn’t have to mean worse, it just means different. And, with reassurance and stability from the loved ones around them, children are often more resilient than we think. If you are finding it hard, don’t bottle it up. Let friends and family in, and talk to a counsellor or therapist if you need to. Christmas is an emotional time in lots of ways, and it’s important to acknowledge how you feel.

Embrace Change

What can you do differently this Christmas that makes it your own? Perhaps a change in the festive routine is long overdue, or perhaps it’s something you’re coping with reluctantly. Either way, it’s an opportunity to create new traditions. Think about what’s important about Christmas to you – what does it represent? Is it a time to:

  • Be with loved ones? Get friends together for a night out or festive afternoon, either with or without your children around.
  • Be creative? Build in craft time with your children. Have a go at some craft you’ve always wanted to try on your own.
  • Rest? Take advantage of time away from the children to look after your own needs. Create your own spa at home with a book, bath and bubbly, or do something else just for you. It’s a cliché but you are worth it, and your needs matter as much as everyone else’s.
  • Play? Do something fun, that you get to pick. Or get your children involved and each choose a favourite activity you can do together. Set boundaries around the budget if you need to!.

Don’t compete

It can be tempting to compensate for being separated by showering your children with festive treats, outings and lavish presents. Don’t get drawn into a competition with your ex. It’s more important to your children that you are relaxed and happy with them rather than stressed about having too little money or time to do everything. Don’t worry about creating the perfect Pinterest Christmas, your sanity and wellbeing are far more important – to your children as well as you.

Planning Early for Christmas 2019

Planning ahead can avoid a lot of stress and arguments, and it also means you can make other plans around the festive season to see extended family and  make the most of your time. Get ahead of the game for next year so everyone can feel prepared. There’s no perfect answer for dividing time fairly between separated parents, but there are a number of models other families use, which might help your discussion. Remember to have your children at the forefront of your minds as you plan – think about what will be most happy and peaceful for them. If negotiating is difficult, mediation is a good first port of call, and the courts can also step in if necessary:

  • Split Christmas Day: if it’s important for the children to see both parents on 25th December one parent could take Christmas Eve then Christmas morning and lunch, then the other pick them up for the afternoon and Boxing Day celebrations.
  • Christmas Day/Boxing Day split: one parent has the children for Christmas Day with a handover on Christmas Night or Boxing Day morning. Often children love this as they get two Christmas Days for the price of one!
  • Alternate Christmases: if it’s more peaceful for the children to spend the majority of the holiday with one parent, alternating each year can work well.

Whatever your Christmas plans this year, I hope you do something that brings you happiness. And if you want to talk through your situation so you can get on track, message me. Let’s chat.

Message Emma

The Divorce Alchemist

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a practising family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self study and group programmes. Emma is featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit

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