How to Have a Happy Christmas (even if you can’t be with your kids)
What my kids don’t yet understand but us as parents know only too well is that it’s not them that suffer the worst separation anxiety, it’s us. As a single dad, divorced a few years ago I’m still completely rubbish every Sunday night when they go back to their mum’s house and my home descends into an unnatural quiet, devoid of the shouting, fighting and general mess and chaos that should be enveloping me at all times as a parent of two boys. I wallow, I sometimes cry and I force my dog into too many hugs that he otherwise wouldn’t get on account of his being so stinky. this just confuses him.
This is normal I’ve learned. It’s a little like the grief you feel when you lose a loved one forever. Losing a parent or grandparent is hard; losing a child is infinitely harder. Losing a child for a few days of every week is actually enough to trigger actual grief every week, even when you know the beautiful chaos will return again soon enough. And it hurts a tiny bit more at this time of year.
Like grief, not being with your kids can only really be dealt with in the way that we deal with missing anyone or anything; we build the grief into our lives. The nostalgic whimsy that forces us to think about what’s not there anymore and allows the tight pain to manifest can be controlled, accepted, acknowledged and then moved to one side so you can get on with your life between kids.
I’ve plenty of friends in a similar boat and together we sail the single parent sea, through the rough and the calm, rarely spying land. And I’ve realised that I’m actually pretty lucky. I see my boys a lot, they are generally happy and healthy and our relationship is strong and undamaged by all the change and new directions. I have a lot be grateful for.
But I don’t have them this Christmas Eve. Their mum and I swap that night every year (keeping it fair means we don’t begrudge each other, remain friends and work better at post marriage co-parenting – I recommend it, even if you have to work hard to find your fairness) but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a daft pang in my heart today (hence writing this on Christmas Eve) and as I stare at my fake Christmas tree (nicely decorated but not real until next year when I wake up with the Chaos) it doesn’t feel quite right having children and not waking up to their excitement in the morning.
But I’ll see them later in the day and all we’re really doing is moving things about a bit, it’s all good. They’ll enjoy it and that must be the main thing. Which is not the case for lots of folks that I know, and no doubt lots of people you know, or maybe even you. Christmas is a tough time to not be the ones you love for whatever reason, and the toughest of all is when they are your kids.
Ultimately, just having kids, just having that noise and the shouting and the expense and the homework and the odd socks and the mud and the back chat and the “I hate you, it’s so unfair”s and everything that makes things normal, even if it’s not all the time any more is a freaking blessing and if they’re somewhere else, being excited, being happy, being healthy, having fun and missing me just a tiny amount, I’ll take that over a gazillion crap alternatives that so many others will be trying hard to deal with this week.
You don’t have to see someone smile to know that they are smiling or that they’re looking forward to seeing you too.
Have a peaceful break folks, stay strong and positive and make the most of every minute you have with anyone important.