Christmas apart: expert tips for managing the festive season after a separation

PUBLISHED: 11:29 16 December 2015 | UPDATED: 11:29 16 December 2015

Balancing family life after a separation can be difficult at Christmas

Balancing family life after a separation can be difficult at Christmas


The strains on a newly separated family can be intensified with expectations of the perfect Christmas. Belinda Strange, senior associate at Herts law firm Debenhams Ottaway, gives 12 tips for making the festive time enjoyable for everyone

With Christmas on the horizon, the reality of spending the festive period as a newly separated family can trigger anxieties. Strong feelings about the breakdown of any relationship can be intensified by the expectation that this is a family time. Even strong relationships can struggle with the strains and expectations of a perfect Christmas.

As a newly separated parent, just getting through the holiday can often be its own Christmas miracle as feelings of loneliness or jealously over a new partner can be particularly difficult to manage.

There is no magic fix but there are coping strategies that can be adopted to help avoid tensions and enjoy the festivities. With careful planning, a family’s first Christmas apart can be enjoyable. To help, here are 12 tips to enjoying the holidays.

1 It may be emotionally difficult to accept that the family will not be together. Allow yourself time to process your emotions and plan a get-together with friends and family for when the children are not spending time with you.

2 Don’t leave planning until the last minute. Often children take turns to spend Christmas Day with each parent so work out who the children will be spending Christmas with in plenty of time and stick to arrangements.

3 Be flexible. Other family members may well have strong opinions but try to avoid competing family sides. Recognise that each parent has an important role to play and always remember to put the children’s needs first when making any arrangements.

4 Don’t ask your children to choose where they want to be on Christmas morning. Make a plan with the other parent for them. If it involves travelling any significant distance consider meeting half way to share the journey.

5 Talk about new arrangements with the children well in advance. Using an advent calendar to help young children understand who is looking after them and when over the Christmas holiday may help.

6 Be punctual. This simple but effective step will make sure everyone’s plans run smoothly and avoid fraying nerves.

7 Relax. Whatever the problems you are experiencing following a separation, Christmas is not the best time to try and sort them out as tensions are likely to be running high.

8 If they are not spending the day with you, put on a brave face for the children and remember you want them to have fun, even if it’s not with you.

9 Reinvent old family traditions and don’t be afraid to get creative and make up new ones. If the children do not wake up with you on Christmas Day, consider adopting a Scandinavian approach and celebrate Christmas Eve instead.

10 Avoid using food or alcohol as coping mechanisms. If you find yourself struggling, seek professional help from your GP. Support organisations such as Mind or The Samaritans are open over Christmas.

11 Don’t overspend on presents if you are on a limited budget. Children don’t need vast numbers of presents or extravagant gifts. What they really want is to know they are loved by both parents; it is your attention and time they need.

12 Don’t forget to allow time for grandparents if they are available, as they have a significant role to play.

Careful planning can help to minimise the impact of parental separation on children. A family lawyer can provide practical legal advice to help make suitable arrangements for particular situations.

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