Christmas can be a difficult time for many separated families, especially if they won’t see their kids on Christmas Day, or they spend the day on their own.
I know how difficult it can be. My son Maxwell is now 9, but his father and I separated when he was 13 months old – just weeks before Maxwell’s second Christmas.
For the first seven years our arrangement was that I had Maxwell Christmas Eve, his dad would come over about 6am on Christmas morning and we’d sneakily place Santa’s presents out, then wait for Maxwell to wake up. We’d have a Christmas brekkie together, the three of us, then Maxwell would go to his dad’s house and spend Christmas night there.
Those early years were difficult for everyone. Maxwell’s dad had a partner, so she spent those Christmas mornings alone, and I was single for a long time, and most of my family lived in Melbourne. Maxwell’s dad had no family in Sydney either, but because we wanted to share Maxwell on Christmas day this meant neither parent could fly back to our respective homes for Christmas – we have been stuck in Sydney ever since!
I spent most of those half-day Christmases on my own in my apartment drinking Prosecco while making phone calls to my interstate family and cleaning up wrapping paper.
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Unwrapping the emotions
I experienced a whole load of mixed emotions over the Christmas period – embarrassment when people asked me who I’d be spending the day with, loneliness, gratitude that I had could see Maxwell when so many families alternate Christmases and don’t see their kids, and even appreciation that I had some time for myself! Friends would invite me over to their family Christmas lunch or dinner, but I never felt comfortable enough to go. I wish I did.
I was very kindly invited over to Maxwell’s dad’s house for Christmas too, but I just wasn’t ready emotionally for that during those first years of separation. It took me a long time to come to terms with my new identity as a single mum family. I’m not going to pretend for one minute that getting to where we are today – where everyone is friendly and gets along – was easy. It took time and a lot of soul searching on my end to finally realise I needed to put my son’s needs first before I eventually got me there.
In fact, it really wasn’t until Maxwell was 8 (Christmas last year) and I had been in a relationship for four years with my partner Josh that I felt comfortable enough to spend Christmas with Maxwell’s Dad, his partner and his new family, which today includes three babies under 2!
That was a big turning point for both Maxwell and myself.
For a child, being able to have all his loved ones in the one room without having to mentally separate his worlds and families was a dream. He now had baby siblings and he desperately wanted me to share in that joy. And so I did. And it felt good. Stress-free. Heart-warming to embrace these new little people who meant so much to Maxwell into my world too. Maxwell’s separate lives suddenly became unified. I could see the weight lift off his shoulders. An adult burden he should never have had to bear. A weight was lifted from my shoulders too. I think it’s fair to say it was a win-win for everyone.
This year there will be four baby siblings who Maxwell will get to share his Christmas with, as well as his step-brother, Daniel, who is also 9 (Josh’s son). King Louis, my 4-month-old baby, and Cara, who is 8 months-old and the newest baby on Maxwell’s dad’s side have firmly landed on planet earth.
Maxwell will spend Christmas Eve with his dad this year, since his twin 2-year-old siblings understand the concept of Santa and the excitement now.
I’ll head over bright and early to watch him unwrap his Santa presents with his siblings and little King Louis, and spend morning there. Josh will do the same and spend Christmas morning at his ex-wife’s house, so he can be there when Daniel wakes up and enjoy what will possibly be the last Christmas where the boys semi-believe in Santa (I think they’re onto us!).
Then after lunch, Maxwell and Daniel will come home with us and we’ll unwrap more presents!
I know Christmas is a difficult time for many families, filled with regret, mistakes, anger and animosity. I just hope that in revealing my long journey to a happy blended-family place, others may be inspired, or at least know that it is possible!
I’ve learned a lot over the past 8 years, some lessons have been learnt the hard way!
Whose chimney does Santa visit?
Santa stops at the house where Maxwell wakes up at on Christmas day. However, this year, because we have Louis and our 9 year-olds won’t believe in Santa next year, he will be stopping by our house too. So when Maxwell and Daniel arrive at my place there will be a small stocking with a few fun presents in it (and maybe a lump of coal if they don’t behave). Maxwell’s dad and I split the present costs 50/50. However, the boys will both receive one gift from each set of parents too.
My ‘Good Changes That I’m Glad I Embraced’ List
Put the children first
The kid’s emotional needs should always be prioritised. Do it – don’t just say it. I think I was too focused on my needs for a long time.
Time heals all wounds.
Manners cost nothing.
‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’. Totally free. Teach the kids politeness not anger.
It’s easier to be nice than to be nasty.
And it’s less stomach churning.
Routines are great.
That way everyone knows what they are responsible for and the child has structure and certainty.
Work together and be flexible.
If you have structure, then most things will be set but there is always going to need to be some flexibility in changes. Don’t be difficult just because…
Manage your stress.
If parents are anxious, kids feel it.
Don’t be nasty about the other parent.