Christmas for separated families

Christmas should be a time of great excitement. Extended family gatherings, holiday time, the giving and receiving of special treats-all contribute to the anticipation of celebration and fun, relaxation and revitalisation!

But it can also be a time of extreme stress, anxiety and dread. As an advisor and facilitator, it is the busiest time of the year, as many parents struggle to meet their own expectations and those of others.

Gift giving can be a difficult time for parents when they do not have the means to fulfill their hopes for family and friends. As much as they might wish to purchase the gift that is yearned for, and Santa has been told about, this can place just that extra bit of financial pressure that tips the budget over the edge. Our material world makes for competition between households that can be very frustrating for those with meagre means, and is often beyond children’s understanding when comparing what they receive from different households.

I have been most impressed by those parents who together have focused on the need for rich and special experiences, rather than expensive items, as appropriate Christmas presents. For those families that do want to purchase that special large gift, the most successful outcomes have been where they are able to join together and make a family purchase, or gift from Santa.

Even the sharing of the festive occasions can be fertile ground for dispute and frustration. Some parents can appreciate that children from separated families generally have the benefit of celebrating multiple times, and that children are not often interested in whether this occurs on Christmas eve, Christmas Day, Boxing day or even the weekend before or after the big day!

But I have spent many hours in the last few weeks discussing with parents the need to wake up on Christmas day and open the presents with their children, or share the waking hours and meal times equally with the other parent, even though this means travelling considerable distances, dealing with tired, irritable and confused children, who merely want to enjoy time with extended family and play with their presents. The need to exchange households on Christmas day has the result of interfering with a relaxed family celebration, tainted by the constant worry about the time, the need to pack up, and move on.

The spirit of Christmas stands for giving, being generous, and doing something for someone that they might wish for, but would never do for themselves. It is not about getting, but about sharing, being positive, and having fun.

Christmas can be more about the sharing of experiences that are special because they do not occur at other times of the year. This is often particularly important for separated families, as their weekends and leisure time are often divided and accounted for in a way that makes the gathering of extended family more difficult. The extra effort is often made at Christmas to get together, and it is this that can be the focus for fun and celebration, particularly if it can take place at some time during the festive season but not necessarily all packed into Christmas day.

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