Separation At Christmas

Coping with a separated family at Christmas can be tough. We’re here to help.

For families who are separated or divorced, Christmas can be a time of tension and upset. Whether you’re dealing with feuding parents who are arguing about access or facing Christmas without being able to see one parent, we’re here to support you through this.

“I don’t want to split the day between my mum’s house and dad’s house. I hate how separate everything is now and I can’t stop thinking about how Christmas used to be before they split up. I want them to be together, even just for one day of the year. Is that too much to ask?!”

It’s normal to wish things were different, especially at Christmas when the focus is on spending time with loved ones. Some separated parents do get along well and come together on Christmas Day to spend time as a family unit but the reality is that this is not always the norm. Most separated parents split the time, each taking the children on their own. It’s OK to feel sad about this. You’re grieving, in a way, for the family you once had. It can help to talk to a parent or other family member about how you’re feeling to get support.

It may also help to try and look at the positives. Separate time with your parents means that you can spend more quality 1-2-1 time together. You may even get double the presents! But the biggie here is to think about your parent’s relationship with each other. Be realistic – if they were to come together and spend the whole day in the same house with you and your siblings, would it really be as rosy and happy as you wish it could be? Or is it more likely to erupt into angry words and arguments? Nobody wants to spend Christmas stuck in the middle of two warring parents. Spending time with them separately may make you feel understandably sad, but it can often be the best choice for everyone when parents don’t get along.

“I don’t want to spend part of Christmas Day with my dad but it’s part of the court agreement so I have to go. He’s got a whole new family now – he doesn’t need me. I want to stay at home with my mum because she’ll be all on her own.”

OK, so there are three parts to this problem. Let’s start with not wanting to spend time with Dad and his new family. It can be difficult to merge two separate families, especially at Christmas. You might feel jealous or envious of your dad’s new family and find it difficult to work out where your place is in his new life. This is a really common feeling to have and it’s important to talk about how you’re feeling with your dad. Find a time when you can speak to him alone and[vi1]  ask if you can have a chat. Try to pick a moment when he’s not too busy or stressed. Find out more about coping with a blended family here.

Now, let’s tackle Mum. Talk to her. Let her know how you feel. It’s understandable to be worried about leaving her on her own, but she’ll most likely reassure you that she will be completely fine and that it’s only fair for your dad to get time with you on Christmas Day too. She may even enjoy having a few hours to chill or clean up the chaos of Christmas morning.

Lastly, let’s make the time spent with Dad work for you. Try to go with a positive mindset to make the most of things. Have a think about your dad and your step-family and list reasons why you’re grateful to have them in your life. Keep these in mind throughout the day to focus on positivity and gratitude. Discover more ways to think positive thoughts here.

“I get so sad at Christmas because I never get to see my dad. I miss him so much.”

Not being allowed or able to see one of your parents over Christmas can hurt. There are many reasons why children are estranged from one parent and no matter what your situation is, it can be difficult to cope with. Don’t keep your feelings bottled up – reach out for support and talk about how you’re feeling. If you don’t feel like you can speak to your mum, reach out to another family member or confide in a friend. You can also talk to a trained counsellor on Childline 0800 11 11 if you’d prefer to speak to someone who doesn’t know you.


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