Who needs another reason to celebrate these days? A couple of good friends, delicious food, enough to drink, great music, and the party starts. Why? Not so important! The main thing is that the guests are in a good mood and the neighbors are not stressful. Sounds great, doesn't it?
In this way, any day can become a festival, but I do not refer to such holidays at this point. In this article, I am particularly concerned with Christmas, New Year's Eve, Easter, birthdays or other celebrations that families usually come together for.
Each of these festive days has a special meaning, exerts a very special charm, spreads this unique atmosphere or creates weeks of anticipation so that you can hardly wait: flushed cheeks, bright eyes, joyful nervousness. Unless you're a separated father!
No need to celebrate?
As a separated father, you may have already experienced the following in the run-up to such festive days and also on the holidays themselves: feelings of rejection, sadness, anger and loneliness. Maybe you wanted to numb your brain with alcohol on such days? Maybe you just wanted to pack your things and disappear?
Have you been numb or absent, or have you stayed? Did you stand to stick with your feelings and memories? Did you endure being without your child on one of these festive days? Have you even been able to celebrate a little yourself? Did you still enjoy it in the end?
What makes it so difficult for separated fathers not to despair or sink into sadness on such festive days? What strategies are there from my point of view to avoid having to escape to alcohol or to another city? How can these days be a reason to celebrate for separated fathers? I want to try to provide a few answers in this article.
Family celebrations - party or frustration?
First, a few thoughts on what makes it so difficult for separated fathers. On the one hand, it is probably due to the fact that one knows from the past: Traditionally, parents celebrate such festivities with their child. Everyone is together, shaping the day and the course of the celebration. It was the same with one's own parents, and it should be the same with one's own child.
I realize that not everyone has experienced harmonious celebrations in their family. Many separated fathers may not have had an intact family life as a child and therefore do not know this idyll at all. But then perhaps it is precisely the fathers who attach great importance to it - precisely because they did not have it themselves.
I am also aware that family celebrations are often anything but idyllic. There are many reasons to tear at one’s hair on such occasions. Be it because of the unfamiliar and intense closeness to each other, be it because of the many little things that have to be done, or because of the visit from the in-laws, who are quite nice but somehow exhausting.
But despite the romanticism and the stressful moments, such festivals are always something special in the otherwise rather uniform everyday life. You spend time together, enjoy good food, tell each other the latest stories and in this way refresh the bond that may have fallen asleep. Family celebrations can provide warmth and security - if you take part in them.
But there is also the fact that some celebrations are of huge importance caused by advertising in the media, by certain songs on the radio (I can no longer hear Chris Rea's “Driving Home for Christmas”), by sentimental films on television, by the changed offer in the shops and the fact that they are on everyone's lips for weeks and shape the cityscape. I mean Christmas and the holidays afterwards in particular. Due to this general hype, Christmas gets a meaning in public that it does not even have in the Catholic Church.
The role of the child’s mother
But what worries a separated father most is the knowledge that the mother of the child does not have to spend such festive days alone. While you yourself only have a bunch of sentimental memories and are alone with your sadness, the mother celebrates Christmas or a birthday with the child together. She can enjoy what is not available to you (at this point a word to all mothers: Yes, I know very well how much work such a party takes!). And as a separated father should one still be in good spirits?
If you have managed to maintain a good relationship with the mother of the child and to set up a balanced visiting regime for such holidays, then, from a purely statistical point of view, you are only without your child every second birthday and every second Christmas. This is a fair agreement, and so it is also bearable when the child celebrates every second party with his mother.
If this fair agreement does not exist, however, then you have to renegotiate year after year, not only with the child's mother, but from a certain age also with the child itself. As I mentioned in an earlier article, older children do not allow being ruled by anybody. Friends gradually become more important than parents as they go through puberty, and visits to dad aren't necessarily high on the list. Then as a separated father you stay alone at Christmas because the child doesn't want to come. From the child's point of view this is understandable, but from the father's point of view it is quite a tough nut to crack.
How can you crack this tough nut? In my own experience, it helps to focus on what really matters. I've found that while it's nice and welcome when my children visit me, their well-being is far more important to me. I can live with it when my children are not with me, but in no way can I live with it when they are not well.
If it weren't for need
At this point, I don't want to dig too deeply into the psychological box, and if I tried, any halfway experienced psychologist would probably tear me apart. But I dare to say that the nutcracker is to perceive your own need and to free yourself from it.
What do I mean by need? If I am only doing well with my children or if I can only be happy in the presence of my children, then that makes me needy for the presence of my children. If the source of my happiness does not lie in my children but in myself, then there is no need. Then I am fine when my children are with me and I am fine when they are not with me.
I realize that the term “neediness” in connection with one's own children is not entirely appropriate. Of course you like to have your own children around you, and of course a father (or mother) doesn't do so well when their own children are far away. There is nothing wrong with this natural need, but it becomes problematic when you depend on it to be met.
So it is about dissolving an addiction and realizing that your own well-being is independent of whether you are alone or whether you are with good friends, with colleagues, parents, neighbors or your child.
Kings and warriors
If you can do that, you can spend Christmas - or any other holiday - without your child. And not only that, you can also celebrate yourself, maybe talk to your child on the phone during the day and wish them a merry Christmas and all the best. This ability is something of a king, don't you think?
But I don't mean to say that in the future you will make a king every year while the mother celebrates with your child. If it is so this year, then the roles should be reversed in the coming year, because the role of queen also suits a mother well. You should stand up for it, but the warrior in you helps you rather than the king. And that puts an end to the psychological approaches.
Finally, I would like to mention that it might also be conceivable to celebrate one or the other family celebration together. Why always negotiate about who should benefit from the child when there is another way? Savour this thought!