Holding steady at around 40-50% and even higher for subsequent marriages, the stats for divorce and separation are pretty high in the US. It’s the third highest divorce rate in the world. So we know that a lot of families are facing sadness, heartaches and a difficult Christmas.

separated families christmas time

It’s hard to be sparkly when you’re on the floor surrounded by the debris of a broken relationship. Everything around us is telling us that family is king, happiness rules and life is one big gift-wrapped bundle of glittery joy! Fa-la-la!

It’s torture if you’re hurt, betrayed, confused, lonely, sad, angry, or ridden with guilt. And then, of course, there is the whole parenting thing to deal with. #Exhaustedsigh

Can We Still Create a Magical Holiday Season for Our Kids Despite Our Sadness?

How on earth do we put aside our feelings and make the holidays as magical as possible for our kids? After all, it’s about them. It’s about magic, celebration and fun.

There is no magic formula for getting it “right” I assure you. But here are some ideas that might make it a little easier:

  • Pick-a-date and make a decision

  • Put aside your resentment towards your ex-partner and breathe …

  • Use this time to talk to your children

  • If they are old enough, ask them to make a decision about where they’d like to be and with whom on Christmas morning and perhaps throughout the holidays.

    Make it clear that you are simply asking where they’d like to be. You are not asking them to choose between you and your ex. Reassure them that both parents will be happy with whatever they decide. That might secretly be a big huge lie and you might be devastated by their response, but this Christmas business is about them.

    If their decision upsets you, please find someone to talk to about it. You needn’t carry this pain by yourself. And you needn’t take it personally, difficult as that can be.

  • Take time to negotiate this time sharing with your ex-partner

  • Do this in person if possible, by phone/facetime/skype if not. Because who here hasn’t gotten into a truckload of nasty by having a “discussion” over text?? (My hand is not raised…;)

  • Make sure all arrangements are then put in writing and are crystal clear

  • Even if your separation is amicable. Amicable can go the DEFCON1 in milliseconds if there is a misunderstanding. This could even be a family activity – involving kids in this way will help them feel empowered in a situation where they may be feeling quite helpless and anxious.

  • Make sure your kids have a copy of your arrangement

  • If there are any changes, no matter how small, it should be communicated to them as soon as they’re decided.

  • Do your best not to criticise your ex (and/ or their new partner if there is one) in front of your children

  • This is a general tip, but I’m super aware that this time of year it’s particularly difficult not to, y’know, bitch. You might be aware they are being financially mean or controlling. Maybe they want more than their fair share of child time or maybe they want less. Maybe they want to lavish expensive gifts on them knowing you can’t compete. Maybe they want to bring them to their new partner’s house for Christmas dinner – or worse, for Santa.

    There are so many maybes here that are Christmas specific. It could be challenging to keep grounded and to not attack. It’s so understandable. But remember that everything you say and do is made into a little memory by a bunch of neurons in your children’s brains. And you are (both) in the beautiful and privileged position of influencing what shape those gorgeous little neurons take.

    kids in broken families during christmas time

  • Give yourself some time to think about what you’d like Christmas to look like from now on

  • You don’t have to keep everything the same for the sake of the children – change is OK! It’s already happened – so why not control some of this change by making it yours? Maybe put the tree somewhere else in the house, maybe have something instead of a tree! They’re so messy anyway aren’t they? Unless you have a fake one – and if you do maybe get a real one! My point being that rituals are important, but they don’t have to be old traditions. You can make new traditions – and you might even get some of that Christmas sparkle back while doing them!

  • Surround yourself with people you trust so you don’t feel too isolated or lonely

  • You will likely feel isolated and lonely, there’s no preventing it if you are sending your kids off for a few hours or days. And this time of year is trigger city – you’re not immune, so please give yourself permission to feel sad, to feel grief. It’s normal. I promise. Even if you’re a few years in.

  • Do your best not to ask too many questions about what your children did while they were with your ex

  • If they want to tell you, they will. And then your challenge will involve NOT taking things personally if they did in fact have fun.

    The last thing you’d want is for them to feel as if they have to keep things from you. They may be afraid of hurting you by saying they had fun or that they loved the gift that Daddy’s girlfriend gave them. It might be coolest thing EVER!! They’re not saying they prefer your ex or their new partner to you. Your children are just trying to tell you how much they like the gift. And if they do like daddy’s new girlfriend, isn’t that better for them than being in a place where they are afraid or uncomfortable? They love you – that is not at risk here. It isn’t a competition and never will be. That can be hard to remember when we are feeling sad and vulnerable.

  • Don’t use your children as conduits or messengers.

  • Don’t feel you have to buy them gifts to assuage your undeserved guilt

  • Don’t feel you have to buy them better or more gifts than usual to make up for the separation. Their pain is normal, as is yours. Toys and iPhones won’t fix that. Plus they need to learn that these feelings are hard but manageable and that the healthy way to deal with them is to express them and get support. This will mean witnessing your children’s pain, but no better witness than you. Just be there. That’s enough.


That’s parenting aced. Good luck. Sincerely. 

Big PS: If you are apart due to your partner being abusive, then feel OK about not allowing your kids to be at risk of that abuse. If this is the case then some of my tips will not be practical / possible / safe. If this is you, then I strongly advise seeking legal and psychological counsel.