I am laughing as I type. I have written so many different headlines to this piece. I settled on Christmas advice. Why? I mean come on, who am I to give advice about Christmas? I am about to celebrate my first Christmas as a divorced mother. My kids will not wake up on Christmas morning to enjoy both their mother and father watch them opening their presents. Instead they will call their Dad to tell him what Father Christmas delivered. Then on Boxing Day they get Christmas Day Take Two. They will never again have a Christmas like they used to. And that is my fault. As in, that was my decision. And my goodness there is a huge amount of guilt that goes with that. One of my sons will likely not remember a Christmas where we were all together. Is that better or worse I wonder? I just don’t know. Shall we talk about all of this? Do you want to?
The reason I am writing this post is because I know from the many women who contact me on social media, though my newsletter, through the blog (etc) that being unhappy in a marriage is really not that unusual. And I also know that a lot of mums stay ‘for the kids’. And I also know that Christmas is a crunch time for many of these women. (And please, I am writing about women and mothers because they are the people who talk to me – I am sure this cuts both ways but quite honestly, I can only talk of my own female experience here). Every year they will it to be better, and every year the same arguments, unequal division of labour and way too high expectations come into play. So what are we all going to do about it? Divorce and live on a commune? Run away and sleep in a yurt? Maybe, maybe.
For many years Christmas for me was a double edged sword. A time I absolutely looked forward to and wanted to embrace, but also a time of disappointment and feelings of sadness. I felt lonely. Very lonely and sad. The reasons for this are irrelevant and private. What I think is worth talking about it how this experience can help others. I want to help another woman, another family. I have three main points, if you’re interested.
One: When someone shows you who they are, listen
The first item on the list is boring. It’s that thing called planning. Can I suggest you sit down together with your partner (I am assuming people who are reading this are in relationships) and divide what needs doing. If you feel this is not possible then my advice would be to listen. No, don’t listen to the excuses and all the reasons why your partner (think about what that word truly means) doesn’t have the time to help with Christmas. Listen to who they are telling you they are. If they are too busy, too important, too tired, too anything to participate fully and equally in an event that means something to your family (this applies to birthdays, holidays etc) and it bothers you – and it makes you unhappy, then listen to what they are saying. They are telling you that their time/happiness is more important than anyone else’s. Especially yours. Listen. Please listen! People are really, in general, not as complicated as they might seem. Most people are front and centre exactly what they show you. As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck – it is indeed a duck.
Two: For the sake of humankind, make sure you are on that List
The second thing is about you and where you are on The List. Not the naughty/nice list, no, on the list of priorities. If you find yourself saying that you don’t want a Christmas present, that it doesn’t matter and you’d rather the money went on the kids/turkey/Christmas eve DVD, stop now and think about what you are telling people. You’re instructing your family (and by that I primarily mean your partner) to remove you from The List. You are saying you’re not important. If you tell someone something enough times they will believe it. Wrapping your own Christmas present(s) is not acceptable. Speak up. It does not have to be in the form of a row. Put yourself back on the priority list. You are worthy of being on it. And your children must, must, must know this. You are raising the future. Show them that mothers are on that list. For the sake of all mankind. (And this does not have to be about money necessarily – gifts can be in the form of homemade things, IOU vouchers and much much more – not just a Boots bath set).
Three: Say yes
The third thing is simple – allow people to help you. Being a martyr is not cool. It’s certainly not a great lesson to show your kids, regardless of their gender. Don’t teach them that mothering is a lonely, thankless and solitary task. Teach them that mothering is thankful, and to be helped and cheered. When you’re asked on Christmas Day if anyone can help you, say yes. And lower your standards if you need to. Nobody will do things the way that you do, but that’s okay.
And if reading all this makes you still feel fretful at the festive season and how it shines a light on the inadequacies in your relationship, that perhaps you really are with a duck, then do yourself a big favour and buy some counselling as a gift to yourself and your relationship. Go alone, go together. Even if it results in the family splitting, it can make it a better process. And of course counselling is costly, but divorce is more so. Even amicable ones. And I’m not just talking about money.
NB: That dreadful photo? It’s our offering to Father Christmas circa 2012. I just couldn’t use a photo of my children for this post.
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Oh so true I could have written this myself. Its 4 months this week since I made the decision that pretending to save face and waking every day with a knot in my stomach couldn’t go on for me but also for the kids. So so hard and took a long time of heart searching and building up the courage but when it came the sense of relief was amazing.
All you say about the guilt, that there will not be a ‘family gathering the same again I feel that too. But this mummy is happier and free-er than she has felt in a long time and our life is more settled. I wish you all the best in your journey Holly too x
I hope you had a lovely Christmas. It’s very hard this path. Wishing you a peaceful new year. x
This is wonderful Holly. Really well written and so unbelievably truthful. I really hope that although Christmas will be different from now on, it will still be lovely for you and your beautiful boys. xxx
Thank you lovely. x
Thank you so much for this Holly – excellently written and it really resonated with my own situation as I’ve recently split from my partner of 20 years. Like you, I too was lonely and sad. I’d also had enough of making all the effort for Christmas (and the rest of the year!) with no help or support as my ex always put his own needs ahead of mine and the children’s. Although it was so scary making that leap, I’m now so much happier and my ex and I are gradually working more together in a friendly way and so he is joining us on xmas day. I’m sure your little ones will have a brilliant time and will love being spoilt twice! Much love to you all xx
I am so pleased you are working well together. That sounds great. Wising you a wonderful and peaceful new year to you and your family. x
Well said , and well done you for having the strength to extricate yourself from a relationship that is not right for you. Because staying in a bad relationship, is bad for the children, they pick up on things that are not right and it does have a negative effect. I have just started a divorce after 35 years. I can honestly say, only 5 of these were any sort of wedded bliss. What a waste! My daughter says she wishes I had done this years ago.
Oh my lovely, I understand – there’s a thing called ‘sunken cost fallacy’ which I think we women fall foul to again and again. That once you’re so far in, you may as well keep going, otherwise the time invested is already a waste. But there is always time for a better, more enjoyable life. The amount of time is kind of irrelevant, it’s the quality. Sending you peaceful and happy new year wishes. x
What a well written article. Full of sound advice and truths.
I wish you and your boys every happiness.
Thank you lovely. x
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