What should you do about Christmas if you are separated?

What should you do about Christmas if you are separated? 

There is no getting away from it. Christmas can be a stressful, costly, and highly emotional time of year. If you add into the equation a divorce or separation, those stress levels can go through the roof. Even the happiest of families have more arguments at Christmas than at any other time of year.  

Whether you have been separated for many years, or this is you first Christmas as a single parent, or you are still living together but know the relationship is soon to be over, there is one issue that you will be facing…..What are we going to do on Christmas Day? 

During my divorce, I remember, having separated, we agreed to spend the day together for the sake of our 2 year old daughter. I got up at the crack of dawn to get round my ex’s house to see our daughter open her stocking and her presents. I then cooked lunch for us all and when my daughter had her nap in the afternoon my ex and I made awkward small talk. The atmosphere was so difficult (for us both), that as soon as my daughter went to bed, I left and spent Christmas evening crying into a glass of mulled wine and playing Football Manager on my PC! It was the worst ever Christmas Day and looking back it was a mistake to try to force ‘happy families’ on us all.  

That is not to say spending Christmas together after a separation does not work - it can, but think about it carefully before you decide to do this.  You also need to make clear to the children that if you are spending time together as a family, it does not mean mummy and daddy are back together.  

Clients in our mediation often have trouble agreeing what will happen at Christmas. Some couples decide to host the children every other year. Others, split the three days of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day down the middle and one parent has the child(ren) until midday Christmas Day and they change over. They can then alternate this pattern on a yearly basis.  

Other parents have two Christmas Days each…Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with one parent and then Boxing Day and the next day with the other. In some cases, the parent hosting on Boxing Day has their main Christmas Lunch etc on this day instead. It can work very well in years such as this one, where you have an extra Bank Holiday after Boxing Day.  

Some parents have agreed that one of them will always do Christmas at their house, and the other parent will always do New Year.  Or again, they do the above but alternate it. 

The point to remember is there are a minimum of 2 weeks holiday that the children have at Christmas and with flexibility you have ample time to arrange for the children to have some quality time and entertainment during the festive season with both sets of parents. So, don’t rush in to agreeing to spend the day together as an ‘easy’ option, it rarely is. 

If you cannot agree, mediation can help you decide on a plan for the Christmas period,  or use it as a compromise on another important event. For example you can agree the children spend Christmas with your ex, on the condition you can take them away for a week over Easter. And whatever you do, do not ask the children (if under 16) where they want to spend Christmas Day. The decision, however difficult, should always come from the parents. 

Finally, please remember that this is just one year. It can and does get better. I know!

Happy Christmas. 


Alistair Carter Dip.M.(B.inst) F.inst.Pa is a divorce survivor, founder of Surrey Mediation Service, Hampshire Family Mediation and Divorce Friend and has 4 children aged 13, 10, 9 and 4.









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