Christmas is often the time of year when co-parenting becomes even more difficult. Or in another words – it’s totally rubbish. Well, it is for me anyway.
Emotions run high and I self-impose steep expectations of yuletide perfection. A big part of this is the feeling that I need to create that family unit for my children. I basically want my house to feel like one big John Lewis ad.
Goals I know.
It’s easy to pretend that this is possible though. Although I’m co-parenting (said loosely), Zak lives with me. I’m lucky, I also get to live with my partner. We have our beautiful daughter and for the most part all is rosy in amongst the obvious rollercoaster of parenting.
So then, with all the people I love most in one place, it is easy for me to be under the illusion that I am creating the perfect, family Christmas.
For Zak however, I imagine it feels a bit different. He doesn’t ever have all of the people that he loves in one place this Christmas.
Being the child of divorce myself, I well remember the feelings of guilt at not spending enough time with either parent. Not necessarily at Christmas as we didn’t celebrate that but certainly I felt it in my day to day life. Whose house would I be going to at the weekend? Would the other parent mind? Choosing one parent over the other was a bit of an internal battle and so, I know that no matter what reassurances I offer my son, he will feel that same internal tug of war. They all do.
This year Zak told me that he wanted to spend his Christmas, over 400 miles away at his dad’s house. If I’m honest, I wasn’t overly shocked. I saw it coming in all its ‘slap in the face’ glory.
He’s getting older, edging towards his teens. His once tiny, squishy little paw is growing into a man size hand that I hardly recognise and I know that it’s time to start letting go a little. Eleven feels like the old age of childhood in a way and so the change is inevitable, albeit a bit premature for my liking. He doesn’t need me as much and he is looking to his dad for guidance. However natural, I am basically hitting unchartered parenting territory and as usual, completely winging it.
Anyway, for better or worse, I agreed. He could go if it made him happy.
And there it is – the reality of co-parenting at Christmas. It is about what makes the children happy. Not what makes the parents feel warm and fuzzy.
So then, this time for the first time in years, I will be without my boy on Christmas day.
This means waking on Christmas morning with a stab in my heart when I see the presents left untouched under the tree. There will be no excited knock at the door telling me that Santa has been. No Christmas dinner where I let him have two types of dessert. He will not be here to share in his sister’s first Christmas (probably the worst part about it) and I will undoubtedly have to fend off the tears when he FaceTime’s me and shows me what an “awesome” time he is having at his dad’s. Kids have a way with words you know.
I’m sure that I will do a big, fat, fake Christmas smile for him when he rings and pretend that it doesn’t hurt like hell. I will also feel that familiar pang of regret when he whispers “I love you” and I realise that no matter where he goes at Christmas, he will still be feeling that tug-of-war inside of him. That he will never really have the perfect Christmas either. Hard to admit.
It’s not exactly something you will see on the John Lewis advert is it? Maybe they should consider it though because this is the reality of co-parenting at Christmas.
Maybe you know how I’m feeling? If it’s your year to share then I hope from one parent to another you will take some comfort in knowing you aren’t alone. It’s little comfort I know, but sometimes when the festive season rolls round and you know the separation is coming, it can honestly feel like you are the only person in the world that this is happening to. Every other family looks to be basking in Christmas magic.
My advice for what it’s worth?
Put on your bravest face, force that smile and wish your children a Merry Christmas.
Tell them how they will have an AMAZING time with the other parent and that you are so excited for them! Don’t let them see your hurt. Don’t make them feel even more guilty or unusure then they inevitably already do.
Put your own feelings aside, send them off with a cheery wave and the feeling that you are fine so that they don’t feel bad.
Once they’ve gone and you’ve had a good cry it’s time to suck it up, put on your big girl (or boy)pants, pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy your Christmas for what it is this time around.
I think that is probably the greatest gift you can give your children this year.
Good luck. I will be raising a glass to all of you “co-parenting” this Christmas.