Love Lose Live published 4 February 2016

The first Christmas after separation or divorce

Christmas and other important celebrations, such as Eid, Diwali and Passover, are family affairs. People usually go home if they're living away and it’s a special time for children. This makes it all the more agonising for families with children where the parents have separated or divorced in the past year. Should they try and recreate their old family celebrations for the sake of the children? This may land them in trouble, as familiar rituals may cause parents to revert to old boundaries and habits that are no longer appropriate.

Their children may think they can save their parents’ relationship, the parents may think so too and then often find they can't. So should each parent do something separately with the children, splitting them up or splitting their time between them? If the children have sadly taken sides, they will decide who they spend the festival with and may punish one parent by the withdrawal of their affection and presence, so that many parents don't get to see their offspring at all. Whatever the situation, the newly separated family may well struggle to know what the right thing is to do during the festivities. So here are some tips for parents.

  • Strive for a better understanding by listening first and explaining second or third. If communication has broken down, try to change that. Start by listening.
  • Send a friendly statement of intent, perhaps in a card, with a message that makes sense in the context of your relationship. Try something like "I know this is hard. I want us to try and be on good terms, to be friends. We have had a lot of life together." Try to turn the tide. If a state of war exists, then try simply "Can we have a truce? I will if you will. Have a happy festive season. I really mean that."
  • Don’t confuse your children with mixed messages so that they think you are or can get back together again, but if your children want to see you both, however little you may relish that prospect, they should be able to. Make it happen. Children are important and aren’t possessions to be fought over. They should never ever have to choose sides. They can and should have you both.
  • Offer your ex something emotionally precious that you know they will value: "Would you like to call in for coffee on [date] and we can open presents with the children?"

Get the message? Yes, it’s the message of love and hope that’s at the heart of all important family celebrations!

Mary Banham-Hall, mediator and family lawyer, author of Love Lose Live: Divorce is a Rollercoaster, published 4 February 2016.