Not seeing your kids at Christmas can be hard, but for many separated families, this is exactly what happens.
Some families prefer to alternate Christmas with the kids each year, while for other families the issues are much more complex. I know many families struggle and there are lots of heart-wrenching stories out there, but this year I have decided to publish a collection of positive stories in the hope that they may inspire and provide ideas and options for other families.
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“I’m going on holidays with my daughter and my husband’s ex-wife and her kids.” Dianne, mum to Allegra, 8.
Dianne has just separated from her husband of nine years, Lee. Their daughter, Allegra will have her first Christmas without seeing her dad in person. However, Dianne and Allegra will spend the week before Christmas with Lee’s ex-wife and Allegra’s older step-siblings.
“When I first met Lee he already had two children – Aaron, who was only 7 months old and Olivia, who was 5 years old.
Traditionally I had always had Christmas with my family in Canberra. I loved Xmas. It was noisy, crazy and their where kids everywhere as I have three brothers who all have children. Usually I was the only sibling who was alone.
For the first couple of years we fought with Lee’s ex-wife about having kids on Christmas Day. Lee would sometimes spend 6-8 hours driving on Xmas day between Canberra, Sydney, where we lived and Newcastle, where his children lived. It was always awful and everyone was always walking on eggshells. Sadly, the big losers were the kids.
Then my dad put his foot down and said this couldn’t go on.
My family, being the awesome bunch they are, agreed that Christmas would be whatever day we decided it to be. So my three brothers and their partners and children, and my mum and dad would get together on a different weekend in December and celebrate Christmas. This way Olivia and Aaron could enjoy Christmas at home with their Mum on December 25th.
This ritual continued after Lee and I had our daughter, Allegra, who is now 8. We would then spend Christmas Day with my mum and dad and Allegra.
This isn’t the ideal Christmas I would have chosen for my daughter, but it is the Christmas that we have.
We moved overseas in 2013. When we came back to Australia in 2016, Olivia and Aaron came with us on Christmas and we celebrated at our caravan (an on-site holiday van we have).
Our rituals are that we must have a tree, which is usually a twig or a branch! We cut out leaf shaped cards and write what we’re thankful for, then hang them on the tree.
2017 has proved a very turbulent year as Allegra’s father and I have separated. Lee will be overseas for the week of Christmas so Allegra won’t see him at all, however they will Facetime. We are trying to navigate the changes as best we can. Allegra and I have actually flown to Phuket for a week to spend time with her brother and sister and their Mum. It’s important she gets the chance to spend some quality time with her siblings as Allegra adores them. And with all of our changes and the uncertainty, we had no idea what this Christmas would behold.
I only hope through all of this my little girl will grow up loving Christmas like I always have. I love family and getting together with everyone I love the noise and chaos.”
“I have my boys alternate Christmases.” Fox in Flats’ Andrea Michelle, mum to two boys.
Andrea and her ex-husband recently changed their Christmas arrangements. This year, Andrea won’t spend Christmas day with her boys…
“My ex-husband and I have been pretty amicable, so over the last few years have either still had the day together for our two boy’s sake, or shared them based on what’s happening with the broader family.
Now, though we’ve agreed to have a year on/year off set up. This year I won’t have my children at Christmas, so I’m going to recreate what we’d usually do on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the days before, and I’ll spend the day with my partner and friends.
I think it’s important to make your own new Christmas traditions to avoid the possibility of feeling sad about those you may have had with your ex, and schedule in time with others even if you don’t feel like it.
But if you do find yourself alone – as I have some years – treat yourself with your favourite foods and some special wine or Champagne and do things you love like spending time at the beach, reading a book, or watching a movie. Let yourself have a cry if you need to, but try to focus on all the great things you DO have. If you look at it as a special time on your own, knowing that this too shall pass, it can be a lovely experience.
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“My ex and I share our daughter on Christmas day.” Amanda, mum to 10-year-old Anouk
Amanda is thrilled that her daughter gets to share Christmas with her, her dad and her new baby brother on her Dad’s side.
“I feel pretty blessed with the Christmas arrangement I have with John, my ex-husband of seven years. My 10-year-old daughter, Anouk, now has a little brother on her Dad’s side, so she stays with her daddy Christmas Eve so she can have the chaos and excitement of waking up and opening gifts with them. Then John and Bono, Anouk’s little brother drop her over to my place and we open her joint gift. John and I go halves in a big gift for Nouk each year together. Then when they leave, Nouk and I go to my mums house on the south coast to celebrate with my family. That evening I drop her back to Johns and they usually off to Fiji, where they have a holiday house, for a Christmas break.”
“Court orders dictate my son stays at his Dad’s house Christmas Eve, so we celebrate Xmas on a different date.” Naomi, mum to Matthew, 4.
When the courts granted Naomi and her ex-husband 50/50 custody of their 4-year-old son, Matthew, Naomi was OK. But when the courts granted Naomi’s ex rights to have her son every Christmas Eve and Christmas day until 2pm, she decided to come up with a plan B.
“I’m a divorced parent of a 15 year-old teenage son, Matthew. His father, Jake, and I divorced when Matthew was age 4.
We have created our own tradition for a range of different reasons. I think a lot of people get too hung up on the idea of Christmas Day being on the 25th only – a day that can’t be changed. It’s just a day! Yes it’s special to a lot of people but really, does it matter if you celebrate Christmas on December 20 or 25? For us, Christmas is more about the togetherness and creating memories.
Admittedly, it took me a few years to adopt this outlook but when I did, and stopped getting hung up on what would happen on December 25, it made my life simpler and stress-free.
The reason I celebrate Christmas on a different day is because when our case went to court and Jake and I were granted 50/50 custody of Matthew. However, Jake argued that he wanted Matthew each Christmas as his mum (Matthew’s Grandmother) puts on a huge celebration for her children and grandchildren. Grandma is English and loves to do Christmas with all the trimmings. A huge roast lunch and a huge family – about 20 people all up converge on her house every year and exchanging presents is expected. There is no Secret Santa to save money or anything like that. There is a giant hill of presents under the tree and tonnes of wrapping paper involved!
I now have full custody of my son but he adores his grandmother. It’s just me, my partner and my son now. Both my parents have passed away and my partner’s parents are Jehovah’s Witness, so we don’t really have much reason to do a big Christmas being just the three of us. In comparison, the Grandmother’s Christmas is superior to ours, so of course my son prefers that! And that’s ok – I would too! I used to get upset because the court order said Matthew must sleep over at his Dad’s house on Christmas Eve and be back to me by 2pm on Christmas day, but they would drag it out so that Matthew never returned until the evening.
So I decided to take control by creating our own time separate to them which they couldn’t interfere with. Now we do a special meal and exchange presents on Christmas Eve and then Matthew heads over to his Grandmother’s.
I also look at the things that we do with him that they can’t. Because Matthew’s father has so many children now, they can’t afford to go on holidays. We do one interstate trip every year (to Tasmania and SA), and are planning on our first overseas trip together in 2018. His father doesn’t like it but he can’t complain as these holidays are great learning experiences for Matthew. Plus, we can afford to provide Matthew with things like a good laptop for school and sports fees.
So even though we don’t do Christmas Day itself, we are still creating happy times in our own way, and we know we’re able to provide the best for Matthew throughout the year. I think that feels better than getting hung up on one date that only happens every year.
We aren’t following the custody orders anymore. Now that Matthew’s 15, I leave it up to him to decide what he wants to do and support him, as long as it’s safe. So far he has chosen to continue celebrating Christmas lunch at his Grandmas.”
“I’ve taken my son overseas for Christmas this year.” Ashley, mum to 11-year-old Brooklyn.
Ashley has been separated for three years and is managing incredibly well. She says the trust she has built with her ex during this time means they work together for Brooklyn’s best interest, and he is the big winner. Here, Ashley share’s tips that made her transition easier:
Don’t get hung up on specific days
“Do Christmas in July, birthdays a month before… whatever. The day is whatever day you make it.
Never ever fight with his dad … ever!
Always speak positively about his dad and take your child shopping to pick a present out for him. Show you want to stay connected no matter what the circumstances.
Give up time with him
Whether you like it or not, you need to. If you suggest a time when you are supposed to have him, it shows good will and opens the door to get some leeway back when you would like him during his dad’s time. The feeling of not being passed around on mum’s time and dad’s time is a big one for us. My son is free and always free to come and go from each of our houses unless we have sports or work obligations in which he understands fully. If he wants to see his dad I call him and he goes over and vice versa.
Have a family day
Just you your child and his dad. Make him feel like he has a family unit still. The other partners have to get over it for your child’s sake.
Do what works for you
I don’t have a custody arrangement. We each have him when it works for us. We do that by putting our son first. No arguing over our son ever. I can’t stress that enough. We want to argue over him but we just can’t justify making him upset for our own anger and hurt.
Be the one to suggest phone calls
Don’t wait for someone else to do it. You want him to believe you are always thinking of his dad, which means your child will still believe he has access to his entire family and that is very comforting.
I had to get my ex-husband to sign a letter so that I could travel with my son to America. He did it no questions asked because he trusts me. That took time by doing the above points, and more. I know the tips I mentioned may seem impossible to some, but I gave up the first Christmas with my son when we separated as a sign of good faith. It worked a treat. I simply celebrated 4 weeks later. Was I devastated? A little. But my son was happy that we made a decision quickly and that it was with ease and no negativity. So, giving up my time set a precedent that has continued to build a lawyer-free, simple custody arrangement. I wish this for everyone. And as I sit here watching a movie with my parents and very happy son, I can’t help but think this is working well ❤”