Traditionally, Christmas is a time when families come together to share the magic.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for most co-parents who are frantically arranging festivities with fixed smiles on their faces.
It is hard because Christmas should be a peaceful and happy time. I mean, why else do we have kids if not to see their cute, happy faces on Christmas morning?
So, the question for separated families is this:
“How can we share Christmas so everyone gets to experience the joy of the festive season without destroying peace to all mankind?”
If you are sharing Christmas as a co-parent, here are some practical tips make it happen.
12 Suggestions for successfully sharing Christmas as a co-parent
1. Make plans a long way in advance
Planning for Christmas as a mum is HUGE, as a single mum it is akin to a military operation.
Unless you have a parenting plan or orders with specific instructions around who has the kids and when, negotiations may be long-winded.
Having to make plans in haste can be stressful so the sooner you broach the conversation with your ex, the sooner you can reach an agreement on the who’s, where’s and when’s of the festive period.
2. Get the Christmas communication right
If there is ever a time to really work on good communication with your ex … This. Is. It.
Chose the type of communication that works best for you as an ex-couple i.e. face-to-face, text or a co-parenting app. Then stick to it.
Be mindful to use non-aggressive communication and gestures to keep everything on-topic and respectful.
Most importantly, make sure you have a record of the plans you have made together, should you need to refer to them if there is confusion later on. This could be as simple as an email or text which you can forward on if arrangements are going awry and one parent needs a gentle reminder.
3. Prepare for change when sharing Christmas as a co-parent
It’s all very well to plan early and be super-duper organised but this is life and changes are inevitable.
For example, one parent becomes unwell or has to work, the ex gets a girlfriend he wants to spend time with, or let’s go crazy and say there’s a worldwide pandemic that closes national and international borders, honestly, it can happen!
We just don’t know what’s around the corner so be open and ready to make changes to your plans.
4. Get parenting consent orders sorted ready for Christmas
If you don’t have a parenting plan or consent orders, then now is the time to get them organised.
Most parenting plans include arrangements for special occasions, including Christmas.
A parenting plan or consent order can seriously save the day (and your co-parenting relationship) when you have already dictated your Christmas plans and both parties simply have to follow them.
Don’t stress if you don’t want to make set arrangements to share Christmas as a co-parent in a certain way for the next ten years. Plans and orders can be changed as situations evolve and your children grow and have different needs at Christmas.
NOTE: Family law courts are bursting at the seams pre-Christmas while everyone tries to get their arrangements documented. Do yours early, or muddle through this Christmas and get one prepared in the new year.
How to do Christmas as a separated family (cont.)
5. Think of new Christmas traditions
If you are sharing Christmas as a co-parent, it will be different now but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better. And YOU are the person who can make that happen!
Create some new Christmas traditions and routines that will provide comfort and joy through the years.
How about a trip to the cinema on Christmas Eve or a walk to see the lights in your neighbourhood? A different treat for Santa or some new decorations which you can put up together?
Single mum life is full of new routines that we create to provide security and contentment for our children, Christmas is no exception.
6. Every Christmas ... KIDS COME FIRST
All the extensive arrangements and precision planning around Christmas are because we want our kids to have the best Christmas EVER.
Yet, amid all the tangled tinsel and crazy Christmas planning it is easy to lose sight of why we want everything to be perfect.
For. Our. Kids.
We want to make wonderful Christmas memories that they will cherish forever and ultimately pass onto their own children.
If you and your ex find yourself arguing over festive plans, remind yourself (and him) why you’re doing this. Your children’s happiness is the one thing you have in common and is great middle ground from which to make plans that work in their favour.
7. GET EVERYONE ON THE SAME PAGE
Christmas’s for separated families can get complex.
Not only do both mum and dad what to celebrate with the kids, but there are grandparents and extended family to consider … not to mention if either of you have re-partnered and there is a whole other family that needs to slot into the plans somewhere. You are not alone if you feel completely overwhelmed.
But please remember: Everything is doable.
Once you’ve made plans, make sure everyone knows what they are. Most importantly share them in an age-appropriate way with your kids.
Letting your children know the plans will help them feel secure in the knowledge that Christmas is under control and they can look forward to it without anxiety or worry.
8. Plan the presents
And then there’s the presents …
If your co-parenting relationship allows, have a chat with your ex before you head out to buy anything.
Ideally, pull together and go halves on the larger gifts, so you both save money whilst the kids are getting what they want. They’ll also be delighted that it’s from both of you.
If your co-parenting relationship is on the rocks and talk about presents might send it over the edge, just send your ex a quick email so he knows what you’re getting for the kids. This way you won’t both gift the same thing.
Communication will mean a better array of presents for you kids, and we all know that means more smiles on Christmas Day!
Sharing Christmas as a co-parent (cont.)
9. Limit your alcohol intake (or have none at all)
Christmas Day is a great excuse for a Champagne breakfast or to crack a beer before midday.
But PLEASE be careful.
Especially if you are not a seasoned drinker.
Too much alcohol on Christmas Day can make you momentarily merry but lead to feeling of anger, tiredness, irritability and anxiety. It can also make you over-emotional or argumentative … which you seriously don’t need when you are trying so hard to keep the peace with you ex.
Plus, your kids won’t enjoy seeing mum drunk, so limit the drink and stay on-form for them.
Note: If you ex is a big drinker, try and arrange Christmas so neither you or the kids are around him while he is intoxicated because this is prime time for heightened emotions and arguments.
10. Ensure you are emotionally prepared for Christmas as a co-parent
If this is your first Christmas as a single mum, or one of the first, it could be hard at times. It is not only mentally and financially challenging, but there is the emotional aspect to deal with too.
Unfortunately, you will be subjected to a barrage of commercials with stereotypical families having the time of their lives on Christmas Day.
For single mothers, this can make you feel understandably inadequate because you are unable to provide this kind of Christmas for your family. On top of this, you might experience seasonal sadness about your relationship breakdown as you remember Christmas’s when you were together and thought it would say that way forever.
If you will be spending all or part of Christmas Day alone, make plans and keep busy. And know that it will get easier as the years go by.
11. Good will to all (even your ex!)
Magic happens at Christmas!
Have a think about how you can use this time to reach out to your ex and mend some of those burnt bridges.
Perhaps you can invite him for breakfast to enjoy the stocking opening, bake him some mince pies or even buy him a small gift. Check out this article for ideas: 12 Hilarious Christmas gifts for your ex.
Whatever you do, use this time of goodwill to your advantage. The reality is that mum and dad getting on (even for one day) is the very best gift you can give to your kids.
12. Enjoy the day and have fun
Yes, Christmas is for the kids, but it doesn’t hurt to let your hair down and enjoy yourself too.
Be sure to allow time for “mum fun” even if it is lying comatose on the couch watching The Wiggles Christmas Special.
My final words about sharing Christmas as co-parent
I am the first to admit that Christmas is different after a separation. And, if you are like me, it can take a few years to find your groove and make Christmas magical again ... for you and your kids.
I liken the first Christmases after separation to a set of Christmas tree lights with a dodgy fuse. They try their best to shine bright and bring a sparkle to Christmas but the occasionally they flicker and fade under the pressure.
However, you will get there! You'll discover what works for you as a separated family and improve on it each year. You'll create new festive traditions which become familiar beacons of the Christmas season. And, most importantly, your kids will get used to your new-look Christmas and learn to love it too.
Wishing all the single mums out their the best Christmas EVER.