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My husband and I separated a year ago and we have two kids, age 8 and 10. Last year they spent Christmas with me and this year they will be with him (and his new girlfriend). I feel so sad about not getting to be with them on Christmas. Any ideas so I don’t completely lose it when the day finally comes around?


The loneliness of being without one’s children during the holidays can be a big shock, but there are things that you can do to help yourself, and your children, when the day arrives.


Your question actually reminded me of an issue a client brought to me in therapy that related to how sad she felt when her ex-husband took their three kids to Disneyland for the first time. (I am changing details to protect the privacy of the client). Since her kids were first born, she had imagined their wide eyed excitement as they entered Disneyland, saw Mickey Mouse, and went on Space Mountain for the first time. But she was going to miss it. A lot of our work involved separating out what her loss was and what loss her children might have. This was very important because she didn’t want her own sadness to impact her kid’s enjoyment.


We decided that the most important part of her sadness was her feeling disconnected from their experience, so we put the following in place. The weeks before her kids left, they downloaded a map of Disneyland and her kids mapped out their route. I asked her to have them imagine what rides they would go on first, what they might eat, which characters they would meet. She gave her kids a camera and asked them to take pictures during the day (when they thought about it – she didn’t want them to feel too much pressure) and that when they got back they could make a photo album so they could remember, and share with her, their memories of the trip. They wanted to call her after the first day to tell her how it was going so they set a time for that. She realized that once she felt she was a part of the experience, that she felt less sad and could notice she was feeling the excitement that they were feeling about the trip.


I give you this example because you can do this around the Christmas too. Sit down with your kids and ask them what they think they will be doing on the day. Will they open presents early in the day or later? Where will they hang their stockings at Dad’s new house? It is also important to tell your kids what you will be doing too. Where will you be for the day? Who will you be with? When will you be opening presents from them? Let them know that when you eat Christmas dinner you will be wondering about what they are doing at the same time. In therapy, we call this internalizing the other person – basically connecting with them in one’s mind when we can’t connect in person.


These strategies and others you can think of with your children, will help you stay connected with them and will likely ease your sadness. Of course you will need to plan a good day for yourself too. Make sure you talk to other family or friends about spending the day together so that you are not alone. If you don’t have family or friends for the day, you might want to think about volunteering in the community. Or simply try to do something relaxing, enjoyable, and rejuvenating - something that is hard to remember to do as a parent most of the time anyway!