Divorce can take its toll on the whole family. For children, Christmas is a time of excitement and wonder, however, with your recent separation, it can often be confusing and uncertain.

Your first Christmas after divorce can often be the hardest. To help parents through this difficult time and support their children we asked local experts:

What one mindset can newly divorced parents take on to help their kids through Christmas?

Their answers may surprise you.

Child's First Christmas After Divorce

Prioritise Your Children’s Needs First

Whilst a divorce is difficult for a husband and wife, the impact on their children will also be significant. The one mindset for parents must be “the children come first”.

Children often feel responsible for their parents’ marriage failure. It is important to ensure the children that they will always be very much loved and that the divorce has nothing to do with them.

Just as important is making sure that children have open access to both parents, i.e. the periods in between access visits are as short as possible. This could be as simple as a mid-week dinner with the non-access parent, school pick-up or taking a child to their after-school activity.

Parents should NEVER denigrate the other parent within ear-shot of a child (save this for your therapist). NEVER use a child to hurt your ex.

Finally, for a newly divorced couple on Christmas day, if it is at all possible to spend some quality time together as a family, this will mean the world to your children.

Rosemarie Nugent

Counselling Psychologist, Manly Pittwater Psychology

Children going through a separation should be allowed to have a childhood, and Christmas in Australia is a big part of childhood.

If parents can think about the children’s needs, and prioritiise those needs over their own desires, then it is likely that Christmas will be easier and more fun for the children.

Alison O’Neill

PhD candidate, M.Psych (Clin), BA (Hons) MAPS, Alison O’Neill is a clinical psychologist and director of LSC Psychology (located in the Sydney CBD) who specialises in the assessment of families going through separation

Helping kids through Christmas when Mum and Dad have recently divorced is difficult at the best of times.

However, if it be at all possible, make decisions which take into consideration the needs of the children, putting your differences aside for the day.

The kids can enjoy both Mum and Dad without anything negative impacting on their excitement, whether or not Mum or Dad are present.

Wendy Estall

Marriage Counsellor (Liverpool & Fairfield), Emmaus Counselling

To help you get through Christmas, keep your mindset on “what’s best for the kids”.

It’s not about demanding your rights, or winning the power struggles. It’s about keeping a child focus. What positive memories will the kids have from this Christmas season?

Keeping a child focus means keeping grounded, planning ahead, and having respectful conversations with the ex.

Be flexible and creative. Plan early.

David Bridges

Family Therapist (Parramatta), Bridges Councelling

Christmas Divorce

Check In And Put Yourself In Your Child’s Shoes

Divorce is tough on everyone. But for the kids it can be even rougher.

For the first time they are going to have to spend Christmas without the certainty that Mum and Dad are together, even if that also meant arguments, shouting and a cold atmosphere.

For some kids divorce can be a relief, but for most it means a time of uncertainly and confusion. There may be a new step-parent, a new blended family, new step-siblings and certainly a new arrangement in which they have to ‘share’ Christmas at different homes.

For warring parents who have got to the stage of divorce, thinking about the kids is often the last thing they do. Divorcing parents are notoriously selfish, thinking only of themselves and their ‘needs’.

So the Number One tip is to put yourself in your child’s mind and imagine what its like being small, helpless, powerless and confused. All you want is safety and certainty. If you spend less time with one parent than the other that doesn’t mean you are going to forget them.

The last thing a child wants is to find that Christmas is a tense, stressful time, so as a parent its your responsibility to make things as easy as possible for the children, even if it means a harder time for you. You are the adult, able to rationalise and have some control.

As a parent, don’t use the children as pawns in your power struggle or post-divorce battle. Take the moral high ground, and offer to help, be kind, and show respect to your ex.

Remember that your children will judge you on how you behave, and taking a gracious approach does not weaken you, it makes you seem stronger.

Annie Gurton

Psychological Therapist and Imago Couples Counsellor (Manly & Freshwater), www.anniegurton.com

Newly divorced parents can often forget that their children are suffering through the divorce process too.

Parents must always remember that even though they have divorced their spouse, their children have not divorced either their Mum or Dad.

Christmas can be a sad time for newly divorced parents as it is an easy time to romanticise the past relationship and reflect on the wonderful times they shared at Christmas.

This can be exacerbated by excited children, and the often time huge effort that goes into “Santa” and the festivities of the day.

Giving yourself a reality check on this day is important. It is also very important to keep things in the day.

On the approach to Christmas, do your best to stay present in the day and just do the next appropriate thing. You are going to have feelings. These feelings may operate on a large range, so remember that feelings have a beginning, a middle and an end. And this too shall pass.

If you find Christmas a difficult time (which thousands of Australians do), then I would encourage parents to find a therapist who works with Mum’s and Dad’s through this period.

Also if your children are struggling, allow them their feelings, and do seek professional support for them if you are challenged (as many parents are) by coping with their hurt and pain, whilst dealing with your own.

No one can do this alone, and help is available.

Melissa Hughes

Founder, Director, Perinatal Psychotherapist & Group Facilitator (North Sydney), Baby and Beyond Parental Counselling

Divorce Christmas

Your Children Are Not A Contest In Your Divorce

The first Christmas for a newly divorced couple with children can be extremely distressing. It’s important for parents not to become competitive during this time and to instead make child centered decisions about the day.

For the first Christmas I think it is a good idea for the children to spend some of the day with each parent.

If the parents get on well enough with each other they could share a couple of hours together with the children to show unity – but be realistic. Sometimes it can be worse for children if their parents are forcing time together which is uneasy and awkward.

In time most people settle into a new routine around Christmases. It’s a good time to implement some new rituals for everyone.

Jacqueline McDiarmid

Director, Couple & Family Therapist (Paddington), Sydney Couple & Family Specialists

There is a ton of expectations around the Christmas Day celebration – it is meant to be a day when the family get together (grandparents included) and spoil the kids and give thanks that we are able to share presents, food and fun, as one.

So when the family is split in two and the Christmas day rolls around you had better have thought about what it is going to look like. Especially from your kids point of view.

Reminding the parents that this is not a contest to win the kids attention with the best present, but a chance to display true parenting skills and adult behaviour so the kids will enjoy their Christmas.

There is some argument about whether to ask the kids to decide where they would like to spend Christmas day – or is better to not let them decide and sit down and discuss what the arrangement will be.

I prefer not putting the pressure of having the kids making decisions until they are older and their reasoning is more justifiable.

Parents should avoid arguing, and plan to share them on the day, if possible, or decide to celebrate on an extra day. A system of alternate days going forward may need to be established.

The parents will be reminded to encourage the kids to have fun and to plan 11 months ahead to avoid any arguments down the track. Remember there are 364 more days in the year – don’t allow this one day to be a spoiler.

Rob Montgomery

Psychotherapist (North Ryde), Blue Gum Counselling

I think it was King Solomon who wisely indicated it wasn’t a good idea to chop infants in half. And that it was our job as parents to help our children flourish.

One of the most important ways we do this is by not treating them as possessions or as extensions of ourselves.

They’re “our” children in the sense we helped give them life and they have certain rights to our love and care (hopefully freely given). But we don’t own them and they’re emerging little people with their own needs and identities.

When two adults divorce, they don’t usually resign as parents.

Certainly they may have different opinions about how best to do this and Christmas can readily become yet another battleground about who’s right, who’s in charge, who’s a better parent or just bloody well because. That doesn’t help the kids get used to new ways of being together with their parents or to enjoy the specialness of the occasion.

Very quickly the children begin to dread Christmas and other such events, in the mistaken belief it is their job to look after the needs of their parents instead of the other way round and to feel chopped in half or having to take sides between two adults they love. Or they learn to use the competition to play the adults off against each other through distinctly nasty manipulativeness.

One of the best legacies we can give our children is a network of adults who love them and want good things for them, even when some of the adults don’t see eye to eye and choose not to live together.

It can be hard for parents at Christmas, especially when they feel unfairly deprived or ill-used by a former partner. It helps to focus on the needs of your children and the long-term relationship you want, years after this Christmas has passed into memory. Each step along the way doesn’t have to be “make or break”.

Really, it’s like the traditional Christmas lesson from backyard cricket – no matter how big or little or old or young you are, everyone has to get a turn.

Max Cornwell

Family Therapist and Psychologist (Hunters Hill), Max Cornwell & Associates Pty Ltd

How To Survive After Divorce

Plan A Space Of Love And Certainty For Your Kids

Demonstrate to your children that even if Mum and dad aren’t together anymore they can continue to care about and respect each other and love their children. If possible attend all their Christmas activities together e.g. Christmas pageant at school; Father Christmas photos.

Agree on what they are going to buy the child/children as there is only one Santa, for older children also agree on presents as this is where children can become spoilt/ play each other and/or manipulate the situation

Develop a parenting plan that includes ideas like those above and for the rest of the year including birthdays, holidays etc. It show them you are working as a team, from the beginning, on their behalf.

Janice Killey

Principal Psychologist, Psychologists Southern Sydney

After a divorce, it is often useful to re-establish neutral contact with the divorced partner if it has been lost during the legal process, especially when there are children involved.

In contrast to conflicting, competitive or ‘no contact’ divorced partners, if divorced parents can preserve an emotionally calm relationship, the children will benefit greatly, especially during significant events such as Christmas.

Martina Palombi

Psychotherapist & Family Therapist (Bondi Junction), Affinity Psychotherapy & Councelling

Christmas time is a special time that should be handled in a way that is sensitive to the children.

If both parents are fit and capable of parenting, making sure that the children are seeing both parents at Christmas time is important.

Consistency and predictability, are important with kids, but at the same time when people get divorced and separate, often circumstances change.

Helping children through these changes is important, particular leading up to their first Christmas with separated parents. Explaining things to them in a child friendly manner can help them through these different times.

Dr Fiona Martin

Clinical Director / Educational and Developmental Psychologist (Mosman), Sydney Child Psychology Centre

Tell us: What tips do you have for parents who have recently gone through a divorce?

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