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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 22-Dec-14 12:45:43

Guest post: 'Christmas is a totally different experience now we're divorced - and our kids have had to adapt'

Christmas can be a difficult time of year for separated parents - here, Lottie Lomas shares how her family have acclimatised, and why she'll be keeping Christmas alive in her home, despite not having her children with her

Lottie Lomas

The Secret Divorcée

Posted on: Mon 22-Dec-14 12:45:43


Lead photo

'Now, Christmas is a game of two halves'

The festive period brings a smorgasbord of issues for single parents, from worrying about the influence of their ex's new partner to deciding who gets to buy the kids’ their most-wanted present, and this year, one in three children under 15 will be waking up with only one of their parents this Christmas. My boys are two of them.

This will be my third Christmas as a single parent, and at times, it's bloody hard. In the very early days of our separation, I had visions of future Christmases with our 'blended' families – Santa hats, bottles of Baileys, children bundled together on the sofa watching The Polar Express. Somebody would be snoring. 'Walking in the Air' would be on the radio.

Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out that way. I now barely speak to my ex-husband, and so sorting out a 'rota' (which is a horrible word) for who has the children at Christmas is like pulling teeth, but with much more guilt.

Yesterday, I asked my 12-year-old son about the pros and cons of having separated parents at Christmas. After a short pause, he said that he missed waking up with the whole family. I know exactly what he means; he misses climbing into bed with both of us, with all the warmth and comfort that brings, ripping the crap out of his presents and our associated tutting as the discarded wrapping paper falls into our coffees.

Now they understand that Christmas isn't about all that having-the-biggest-present stuff, and I believe that this revelation has come from all of us having to re-learn what ‘family' means.

I miss that too. In fact, I'm having a little cry as I write this. There's no getting away from it - I've taken that pleasure away from him by leaving his father, and it fills me with sadness and guilt.

“On the other hand”, he said brightly, “I get two lots of presents”. Well, every cloud…

From my point of view, Christmas is a totally different experience now, and one which I'm still trying to acclimatise to. It's a game of two halves; there's your time with your children, which is the easy bit, in a sense. You know what you're supposed to do - presents, relatives, food, love, telly, hot chocolates, long walks and crackers. Sometimes it's a bit exhausting - especially if you're on your own - but at least you know, vaguely, how it's all supposed to work.

Then suddenly, you're without them. What are you supposed to do? There's this yawning, expanse of time, with nobody sharing their excitement with you as only kids can. It's tempting to sit on your own and feel miserable, but – god knows – that has limited appeal. I'm learning to fill my time up with something positive, seeing friends or helping out with a local charity. A friend of mine spends her free time at Christmas at an old people's home, helping with the Christmas dinner.

Then, of course, there is money to consider. As a nuclear family, we were relatively well-off; now, I live on a tight budget. I make sure I live within my means; no credit cards, no loans, no buying on the never-never. Key to making this work at Christmas is that my children understand. They are aware that their friends will have 'things' that they won't have. And do you know what? They get it. As horribly cheesy as it sounds, they understand that Christmas is about family and love and peace and rest, and not about all that having-the-biggest-present stuff. This revelation, I believe, has come from all of us having to re-learn what ‘family’ means. Again, every cloud – and this one in particular is a miraculous silver lining.

Gingerbread, which provides support and advice for single parents, has a great (and free) 'Christmas Top Tips' fact sheet – they say it's important to create and maintain family traditions over Christmas that the children will remember as they get older, and that really struck a chord with me. My sons are 12 and 14 but, even now, we sprinkle reindeer food (oats and glitter) on the lawn every Christmas Eve. This year I will do it on my own, because the boys are at their Dad's. Why? Because it is Christmas. And a tiny part of me feels that Father Christmas won't deliver us any presents if I don't. Bonkers, isn't it?

However you're spending Christmas, with or without your children, I hope you have a very merry one.

By Lottie Lomas

Twitter: @secretdivorcee

usefully Mon 22-Dec-14 15:27:16

Thank you for that post.

It's very prescient for me as today is the first "Christmassy" day that I've been without my DS since the divorce. I've done a bit of shopping etc but am very aware that I'm just marking time until he comes home. I'm lucky that he's not away for more than a couple of days this year, but I know that (due to his age) the chances are that I'll see him less in future years.

I don't know how you get used to it, or get over it. It's very hard.

I'll be spending Christmas Eve on my own as my family and friends are too far away and I have to be here for him getting home.

Last Christmas we didn't really do anything much as I was still in the midst of dealing with the breakup and DS was too young to really understand that it was anything special. This year he's still a bit young but I've done the basics - tree, stocking etc.

I feel like we should be starting our own traditions but to be honest I don't really know where to start. I'm aware that he'll only be here every other year so what do I do in the between times?

Does Father Christmas come twice, once to each house? How do you explain that? DS also has two cultures (Exh isn't British) so I have no idea how to explain that one year Santa comes on the 25th and another year he comes on a different day entirely. How confusing!

I suppose we just play it by ear. I have tried to build a decent relationship with exH but essentially he does what he likes on "his" days, without recourse to me. DS is pre verbal and to be honest I don't even know where he is or who he is with today.

Like I say, it's hard. I didn't have kids to wake up Christmas morning on my own! Same with birthdays etc.

chestnut100 Mon 22-Dec-14 16:01:56

Thank you for this post. It's our second year apart and whilst I know the separation was absolutely the right thing for me, my heart is literally breaking today. I feel a crushing sadness that my children will never remember a Christmas all together. They will always have this too and froing between homes to deal with. I look at families out shopping and I feel I have robbed them of this.

The worst thing for me is that I can't tell anyone how I feel. I made this choice, it's all my doing. I'm so sad today

Memyselfand1 Mon 22-Dec-14 16:06:59

Oh well, we had the pleasure of a couple of lovely Christmas with exh and friends after the split, then things turned out sour and we have not seen his dad for several years.

As the OP clearly mentions, expensive toys, the last trend, etc. do not matter anymore, which is great because we cannot longer afford them. But the little monkey has been great at understanding the joys and tribulations of a life in our own, and Christmas is no exception.

Things change. I cannot longer get a real tree because I am not able to fit it back in the car to take it to the tip, but we still laugh at our efforts of that last time we treid to get one in the car.

Our old Woolworths tree, from our student days, is now back on duty. The first Christmas I had to bring it down from the attic on my own, I asked DS to sit on my bed, mobile in hand, ready to call an ambulance if I fell down the ladder. He gladly obliged and interrupted my efforts every few seconds to ask "can I call them now, mum?, can I? please!?!?"

After these years I have become more dexterous at getting the tree down from the attic, and also at coping with life as a single parent. But we keep to the tradition, because for us signals not only the beginning of the Christmas season in our lone parent household, but a celebration of the knowledge that we are, and will, be able to cope on our own no matter what.

It is obviously also a sad time, when I direct all the bad vibes I can (and hurt myself in the process) to my exH, who was happy to go on with his life as if this wonderful child, who we were raising together, didn't matter anymore.

But then I see the happy child, no longer in the receiving end of his dad's anger and selfishness, and everything makes sense. Life is better, and happier, even when social stereotyping often tries to force us to believe otherwise.

JaneAHersey Mon 22-Dec-14 16:43:40

I grew up in a minority community. My father left my mother, he was a gambler and a womaniser yet my mother was blamed and ostracised by her family and community.

Like many lone parents my mother found herself in that predicament through no fault of her own. That was 50 years ago and society still stigmatises and punishes lone parents and their children.

For many lone parents this means going without food in order to feed their children, depression and social exclusion, the impact on children is huge. Society needed to become more civilised, sadly it's the opposite.

Lloydcolestilldoesitforme Mon 22-Dec-14 18:29:45

I just wanted to acknowledge your post. It's the first time I've read something that comes close to how I feel about Christmas. I have been divorced for 4 years now and I still find it hard. My mum was a single parent and she hated Christmas and now I understand why . I don't express that view in front off girls but really it's my least favourite time of the year. I'm lucky in that I have a good relationship with my ex and he lives close by but I have no family and he has loads, including a cute new baby brother. I am glad my girls get that family experience but I'd be lying if I said that it doesn't hurt. Missing them at Christmas is like feeling homesick. Especially on Christmas eve when they aren't here. It's helpful to know others feel the same. All of my friends are still (happily) married so I never talk about how this feels. It can be isolating,Especially when they say "lucky you, either other weekend off", like there wasn't a cost to this arrangement (I love them dearly but I think until you live this reality it's impossible to understand how it really feels). I don't regret the decision to get divorced though. I know the quality of my children's lives is better as a result.Good point about making traditions. Made me think that so long as you find time for the tradition it doesn't matter what date it is. Good wishes and support to you all. Xxx

Ledkr Mon 22-Dec-14 18:30:25

At Christmas I'm always very grateful that my xh is a bit if an idiot and has minimal contact with our children. Not ideal of course but I do get to spend christnas with them.
I suppose it's different if the other parent bothered all year though.
Do any of your chikdren ask to stay at their main home?
My dd was adamant she would hate not to wake up in her own bed.

usefully Mon 22-Dec-14 18:53:02

I sincerely hope my dc request to stay with me once they are old enough to voice this Ledkr.

Urgh the "you get every other weekend off" thing really annoys me. I feel like saying "yes I had kids so that I can ship them off to someone I hate and don't trust to keep them safe. I had kids so that I could miss out on spending their birthdays and Christmas with them. God poor you that you see your kids all the time, it must be awful <head tilt>" angry

Oh well, my fault for marrying a wanker I suppose hmm

CharlotteCollins Mon 22-Dec-14 19:50:02

I love the time I have with my DCs, but I am a much stronger parent now that I have every other weekend to catch up and to recharge my batteries.

I don't understand about feeling you're missing out. My DCs opened stockings with me before they went and they will open their main presents from me when they come back. There are elements of their life that they dislike, but they see the benefits of having three Christmases!

And in the mean time, I am going to enjoy the quiet - blitz the house because heaven knows it needs it, get lots of work done because it stacks up while the DCs are here, and recharge so that I am a better parent for them when they return.

I can understand it's different if you're worried for their safety - usefully I hope you have a good solicitor if it comes to that?

dansmum Mon 22-Dec-14 21:16:08

What you probably dont that you have your 'New ' traditions to create together..and everychild wishes their parents to be happy..if that means married or single or seperated..they care about you at xmas because you love them and THAT is all that counts. Xx

TheDBird Mon 22-Dec-14 23:03:21

I have to say that I take real humbrage to the use of the term 'single parent' throughout this post. I really feel for your predicament at having to 'share' Xmas. I can't imagine how it must feel... I suppose that's the ONE silver lining of being an actual 'SINGLE' parent.

I am a single parent. Single. Just me. All of the time. No arguments in my world about who gets to buy the most wanted present....I DO.

As much as I sympathise with your situation, you are not a single parent. Your children have 2 parents who have chosen for good reason not to be together, but who are still a part of their lives. I think you and your children are lucky to have 2 parents who want to spend time with them at Christmas or any other time.

Fiddlerontheroof Tue 23-Dec-14 00:13:52

Thanks, this is my first Christmas without my kids....and the fourth Christmas since my ex husband made the choice to tear the family apart.

I can't bear the thought of sitting round on the day, so...I'm up there with the other parent and I'm helping serve Christmas dinner at the local old folks home.

...and if like me you make all the parenting decisions, do all the mundane day to day stuff and manage a child witha disability and all that it entails....,and then endure your ex swanning in at Christmas...and when he feels like it during the year.....whilst not giving a shit the rest of the time, I think despite my kids having two parents.....that still makes me a single parent...It's so dismissive to suggest that parents are anything otherwise, when you don't actually know the full situation.....

ILoveGreekCats Tue 23-Dec-14 07:17:50

chestnut100 your post brought tears to my eyes. My kids are older 15 and 18 , not really kids anymore and my marriage is going through a really difficult patch.My dh didn't want to invite anyone round on Christmas Day but I said we've got to do it for the kids. So I'll put on a brave face and I'll be sitting there wondering if this will be our last one together! Thank goodness the kids are older but I worry that if we split up they'll blame me as dh thinks that the reason we've reached this stage is my doing!

usefully Tue 23-Dec-14 07:21:37

Absolutely Fiddler.

Dbird what do you suggest we call ourselves?

ExH sees my dc once a week, midweek, whilst I'm at work. I get about an hour to myself after work before they come back, which is usually spent cleaning.

I do all doctor, dentist, childcare arrangements, illnesses, nights, weekends, holidays.

I also get to buy the "main present" as exH and his family don't allow any overlap with home life, so if they get Xmas and birthday presents I don't see them (and don't know if or what they buy or whether they even celebrate as dc is pre verbal).

I'd say I'm a single parent. And I'm proud of it. And someone swooping in to take them away on Christmas hurts, even though I'm sure dc have a lovely time.

Bonsoir Tue 23-Dec-14 07:54:38

I really, really cannot agree that it is always better to have an exP and another parent than to be a single parent. Some NRPs are an absolute nightmare who only destroy what RPs try to achieve.

Gogglepox Tue 23-Dec-14 08:07:17

I loved your post OP. This is the first Christmas without my children (we only separated in June). Although I wouldn't change my decision to divorce their father, I hadn't even thought that that would mean Christmas without my children at some point. That really hurts.

In mediation I suggested both of us be there on Christmas morning but he wanted to continue the "tradition" to take the girls to his parents house (2 hours away) and I couldn't put myself in that environment (unliked and outnumbered) so I agreed to every second Christmas. It's hard though because my ex has family here and I don't have any close relatives (mum, dad and brother are in another country). He has also just and given our DDs a bloody puppy for Christmas!

I am trying to build traditions, like going to a Pantomime, when I get them back (Boxing Day) but I was a little perplexed about what to do on Christmas Day myself. I was a bit embarrassed too because friends and colleagues (and my ex) kept asking what I was going to do with myself. I had a few loose invitations to friends' places but I'm new in town and felt I was imposing on these new friends (if they were old friends I would have gone over in a shot).

I looked into volunteering (great idea!) but the places around me didn't need any more help!

I was then going to join a running group who does a 9am Christmas run.

But in the end fate stepped in. My elderly aunt passed away and I'm going to the funeral on Christmas Eve. It is 3 hours away so my uncle suggested I stay over and spend Christmas with him and my crazy, single male cousins. I'm not close with them but their invitation warmed my heart. I think we'll be spending it in the pub but who cares.

In future years I'll plan my time better but for this year this may be exactly what I need.

MeMyselfAnd1 Tue 23-Dec-14 08:14:14

TheDBird, you are right, we should be calling ourselves lone parents, divorced parents, widowed parents, etc. But you cannot assume you have it worse because you became a parent as a single person. The struggles vary from person to person and the support you have available to raise a kid on your own, is not necessarily better or worse when there is another parent in touch.

As Charlotte above said, I loved the weekends on my own as I could recharge my batteries, meet with friends, do the shopping, clean the house and cook all the food for the week, so the time when DS was at home was a doodle. I really enjoyed that time... Until exH started being abusive towards DS.

As someone said above, what makes it difficult is being forced to send the children to spend time to a parent you can't trust not to hurt them. And it very easy to say that that's what solicitors are for, when every parent who has gone to court can tell you that justice is often, unfortunately, for the one who can hold longer (or continue to pay the £10,000s that cost to bring a children matter to court).

Do you know how it feels to get your child back hungry, sick, dirty, hurt and above all distraught after a weekend with dad? How do you think it feels when your child cries and begs you to protect him and you can't do anything about it because you can't afford to return to court or because the court would not listen?

But the worst part is, how do you explain to them that a dad or mum, who showed great affection in past times, doesn't want to see them anymore? How do you help them to navigate the feelings of rejection, or even misplaced guilt, when they are abandoned by a parent they knew well?

Having said that, I do not regret getting a divorce at all, because nowadays there is nasty person somewhere out there that DS hates and loves in the same measure and who continues to hurt us even in his absence. Before, he was sleeping next to us.

Onthedoorstep Tue 23-Dec-14 08:35:51

Good luck Gogglepox. smile

Lovely post. For me, the guilt is a tough one. But three years on and the children seem very happy with the messy Xmas arrangements, enjoying the different things that my ex and I bring to their lives.

usefully Tue 23-Dec-14 09:12:59

Bonsoir I absolutely agree.

My life would be so, so much easier if exH just buggered off for good.the dc are too young to miss him.

Imagine, no abusive emails, no police involvement, no treading on eggshells, no ex inlaws to get involved!!

Bliss smile

Mumtobeyorkshire Tue 23-Dec-14 09:20:12

Coming from the other side,my parents divorced when I was 13. I hated Christmas as it meant that I was constantly aware that one of my parents would be sitting home alone missing us whilst we were with the other. It totally ruined Christmas for me as I felt guilty enjoying myself when I knew one parent might be feeling lonely and hurting.

A couple of years ago my parents made the effort to be amicable and we spent Christmas Day as a family. It was awkward as hell but every year gets a little less weird and a bit more enjoyable- especially as this year we have my 3 month old daughter to share it with!

I guess what I wanted to say was that if you're a parent who is in this situation, please consider either burying the hatchet for the day OR ensure you are with friends or family when you don't have the kids so that your children don't feel guilty or need to worry about you.

Happy Christmas everyone- whatever your circumstances xxx

chestnut100 Tue 23-Dec-14 12:05:34

Ilovegreekcats...thank you for acknowledging my post. I feel a little less alone just knowing someone had read and understands.

I feel slightly less somber today. Trying to hold on to the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect Christmas, it is just how I'm framing it in my mind. I'm making myself recall our last Xmas together where he yelled at me and told me be despised me...that can't be better than being alone.

usefully Tue 23-Dec-14 12:17:11

It isn't Chestnut, at all!

We've had Christmas Day today. Well, we've opened presents as due to logistics it just made sense.

We've had a lovely morning smile

MrsBlimey Tue 23-Dec-14 13:30:59

This is the third time I've been sans enfants for Christmas - they're currently en route to the out-laws in France for a few days. Can't deny it's still bloody horrible saying goodbye to them, though.

We alternate each year but whoever doesn't have the girls has a 'pre-Xmas' or 'practice Xmas' a day or so earlier, so we have Xmas eve at ours on Sunday night and then ate lunch and did pressies yesterday. It inevitably means that by the time the real thing comes along they're a bit jaded and full of sweets already, but for the time being it seems to work.

Good luck to all of you this year, however you'll be spending it. It does get better. Slightly. Gradually.

As one poster mentioned, the DCs now understand that the whole festive period is about family and spending time with different parts of it in different places. They're not bothered about presents (even though they can be guaranteed a tonne of pink plastic crap from the out-laws!) - they just love spending time with people who love them, sometimes at home and sometimes elsewhere.

Enjoy your festivities, xxx

inraolyn Wed 24-Dec-14 11:05:12

I'm seeing this from both sides these days. My parents separated when I was 8 and, after a few rocky years, we settled into a pattern where we alternated Christmas and New Year. As a child, I was happy. It worked out the same every year - New Year's Eve and Day became just as important an occasion, even if we didn't do much. Instead of having one special day, we had a special week of being with family, both my mum's and my dad's.

Coming at it as a separated mother now, it's both hard and not. There's the familiarity of it for me - in my head, this is just how Christmas works. I have traditions which I can pass on to my children, like putting Christmas cards in the tree until they're opened, or making biscuits on New Year's day. Things which aren't jsut about the day, but about the season. It sucks not having the magic of stockings and waking up to the presents every year. It really does. But at the same time, Christmas doesn't have to be only one day, and it doesn't have to be something which traumatises children as well as parents. Obviously if one parent is abusive or no good as a parent that changes things, and can have more of an effect.

For families where that isn't the case though, it's perfectly possible to make traditions and have fun and enjoy the season whether you get the big day or not. I'm celebrating Christmas today with my children and they will open presents from me, and then they are away for Christmas Day and Boxing Day, while I will be staying with my family.

I have plans for New Year, and I invested in a reusable advent calendar so that I can spread the festiveness throughout the buildup. Chocolates are placed in the box every night as if by magic, even when they're away.

Father Christmas will visit their stockings tonight, and bring a few presents for under the tree, and when they come home we will open those together. It's not better or worse than Christmas all together for me. It's simply different, and I have every confidence that my children will grow up as relaxed and happy during the festive season as I was.

timefliesby Wed 24-Dec-14 14:25:52

My third too! I just got drunk last Christmas, I was very, very sad! But working for a charity is a much better idea. They're with me this year. It's not ideal in any way, shape or form but lets stay positive, we still have so much for which to be grateful. Thanks for the post.

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