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Warring parents at Christmas

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.Toys in every store. But the purdy-est sight to see. Is the holly that will be on your own front door”

The sing song background music,the image of the wreath bedecked front door opening to welcoming hugs and warmth is the dream Christmas that everyone wants. We see it in film, hear it in our songs “I’m driving home for Christmas”.

If you’ve been lucky you may have had this in your own childhood or just maybe, your own childhood had less warmth and love and you felt that you had created that in a home, relationship or a marriage that is over and you are now facing a very different Christmas. 

Whether through separation or a breakup, many adults and children are missing someone, many are not sitting at the same table and some must stay outside. Maybe you are the blamed party, the one to be punished. Maybe it was you who made a ‘mistake’ or perhaps you are the one who feels broken, disappointed,angry and let down.

Christmas  brings back dreams of what could have been and can deepen the anger and disappointment as you try to manage the brokenness of what remains at this very emotional time of year. Couples can war over children,visiting  times,Christmas dinner,who will be present when Santa comes. It’s difficult, complicated and it’s emotional, but we need to learn to manage these times better and this may mean we also need to change some of our traditions and our approach to the season and what it actually does mean now. 

Relationships and families change all of the time, ebbing and flowing with periods of loss and others of happiness. Changing our own approach and opening our minds to new traditions can help.

In 2017 figures we had  218,817 families headed up by one parent, ( of which 90,000 were  single; 50,496, widowed and 68,378 separated or divorced.

I’ve just watched Noah Baumbach’s new film “The Marriage Story”and would recommend it to all separating couples. It highlights the war that begins between a couple when the lawyers come on board. It dramatises how a couple can lose sight of what was good between them and how sometimes, two good people can do their best, but still that marriage breaks because they grow away from each other and cease to be part of each other’s dream. 

If you are in that separation process it’s a reminder that you will always be parents to your children, separated or not. No matter what has happened between you as a couple, your children will always want both of you. If you set up an environment where your children cannot acknowledge that love,then they may tell you what they want you to hear but deep down they will be burdened with a love that cannot be spoken. Over time they will resent this and when they become adults, they will see that there was another way.

Christmas can be a pivotal point in this new time in your family. It can be a time when you signal to your children that you are a unit albeit one that has changed and that everyone has a place at the metaphorical  Christmas table. 

It may not be that you have dinner together but perhaps you can have some part of the day or days together. Dinner is not the only way to celebrate family and Christmas, there are many other ways that can be found. It may be a game, an outing, a coffee ,a walk, a film a play, a meeting in town. Doing something new together is how you establish a new tradition, and one that is meaningful in this new format of family that you now have.

You may say “that’s a ridiculous suggestion” and I hear you say “why should I”,“I did nothing wrong.”

You see it’s easy to be righteous and to see everything from our own point of view. But as you decide the lines of your relationship or marriage battle, you are choosing the trenches where your children must fight. 

Just as in war there is a time for peace  and Christmas may well be the right time.

In 1914, In the middle of the First World War, a truce was initiated for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and soldiers from both sides exchanged gifts, took photographs and played impromptu games of football on “no man’s land.”

What initiated this action? I am sure that the deep missing of home and family played a  part as both sides realised the commonality of their longing for loved ones. 

When a long term relationship or marriage breaks it’s always laden with heartbreak, but we need to learn to move forward from it.  In life, we cannot avoid loss or disappointment but we can learn to manage it better. Christmas can be a new beginning.

“ Let it change, let it change, let it change”