My parents separated when I was in my teens. From a selfish point of view, this felt like bad timing. I was studying for my exams, having friend dramas, having boy dramas and worrying about 5,098,968 other things. The last other thing I needed to worry about was where I’d live, where I’d keep my stuff and how I’d navigate Christmases (that’s a word, promise!) and important events with both my mum and my dad.
Over time we worked together as a family to figure things out. I realised that both my parents were going through a lot of different emotions themselves. We came up with arrangements: I’d live with my mum and see my dad some weekends. We came up with Christmas plans: I’d spend Christmas Eve with my dad and Christmas Day with my mum. We came up with ways of talking about everything going on that felt natural and lots more.
Four years later, I was happy and so were my parents and my little brother. But then I got a boyfriend who also had divorced parents. This was great because it meant we really understood what it was like to be in each other’s shoes. The difficulty around birthdays. How to spend Easter. Who to call first in an emergency. But nothing prepared me for how tricky it would be to plan FOUR Christmases.
We both really wanted to spend Christmas together. But then realised that meant we didn’t just have one big Christmas to plan, but four. One at my mum’s, one at my dad’s, one at his mum’s and one at his dad’s. To make matters worse, everyone was really keen to see us on Christmas Day. Now, this is a nice problem to have. Lots of parents, lots of Christmases, lots of love. But it meant we had to be really smart about what we did and how we planned it.
First up, we decided to see my family because they’re both in the same town. We spent Christmas Eve with my dad, his wife and my little sister. This was lovely because we were all feeling fresh and Christmassy. My little sister loved being able to open some presents a day early because it felt exciting – not to mention a bit cheeky. Of course it felt sad to say goodbye to them, but they were excited about their Christmas Day together. So we left them in good spirits. So far so good!
Next up we travelled to my mum’s house where my brother was also staying and had Christmas Eve night and Christmas Day morning with them. This felt really special. The big day! We did all the little traditions we did as kids, like putting out our stockings, having mince pies outside looking at the stars and a whole bunch of other silly, festive things. It was nice to include my boyfriend in all of them too. Christmas morning was a lot of fun and we opened presents nice and early. But then we had to leave to travel to my boyfriend’s mum’s house. It really didn’t feel good leaving my mum and brother behind. AND my little sister called me to wish me Merry Christmas, which really pulled on my heart strings. But I pushed through the emotions to be there for my boyfriend and his family.
Luckily travelling only took a few hours and we were greeted by my boyfriend’s mum and brother who were so excited to see us. By this point we were feeling a bit tired, but tried our best to lift our Christmas spirits. A great way to do this was to play games, like Monopoly and Charades. This way we got to spend time together but didn’t end up eating and feeling too full or talking about the same conversations over and over.
We spent a night there with my boyfriend’s mum and woke up fresh the next day to travel to his dad’s house. When we first arrived we were feeling surprisingly energised. My boyfriend hadn’t seen his dad in months, so it was really special for him. They really appreciated that we’d had so many ‘Christmases’ already, so they made things different. We had a steak and veggies rather than Christmas Dinner! Hot chocolates rather than Christmas Pudding! Then played lots of silly games before giving smaller gifts round the fire instead of big ones round the tree.
Overall it was really fun and really exhausting! If you’ve also got a Christmas to spend with lots of parents or lots of friends or lots of relatives, here are some handy tips I think really helped me:
Decide if you’ll give presents – and what they’ll be
If you’re going to spend Christmas with a lot of different relatives or friends, you’ll need to think about a budget. You can’t buy loads of gifts for everyone – even if you want to. What we did was agreed to buy my little sister presents, then set a £10 limit with everyone else. This meant we had to get creative with gifts too, which is always more fun!
Make a plan and try your best to stick to it
Having a strict plan isn’t nice over Christmas, but you’ll need a rough idea of where you’re going and how long to spend in each place if you want to see everyone. Give yourself room on either side of your plan too. That way if you want an extra round of Scrabble or an extra mince pie or three you won’t be panicking.
Enjoy the moment, but keep in touch with selfies, photos and chats if you want to
I’m not recommending you spend your whole Christmas on your phone. BUT if you’re really missing a friend or relative or sibling or partner, then keep in touch with them in ways that feel easy and fun. Like sending a mince pie selfie to your mum or make a silly audio message of you singing a Christmas carol to your dad.
Take a breather for yourself
At Christmas time it’s easy to think you have to be a perfect, exciting shining star all the time. But we all know that’s not possible, especially if you have lots of different Christmas celebrations to attend. Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself by going for a walk, having a breather or helping out with cooking and chores so you don’t get tired of talking and socialising.
The most important advice is to have fun. Christmas always seems overwhelming for me, but it’s over so fast. I often wish I’d spent more time enjoying the present moment rather than worrying about whether my dad really liked that tie or whether I should have stayed to have another mince pie with my gran.
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Image: Mean Girls