'After I Dropped Him At His Dad's, I Sat In The Car And Cried': The Reality Of Co-Parenting At Christmas

The authors of How To Be A Happy Single Parent get real about surviving the festive season without the kids.
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The first few years as a co-parent are the hardest, writes Zoë Desmond. When you’re working out what works for you both, Christmas can be a time where everything gets a bit messy.

On my second Christmas as a single mum, I handed Billy over to his dad at lunchtime. I was so happy to wake up with him on Christmas morning and unwrap his presents from Santa together, but I had this feeling of dread all morning that I would have to hand him over at any minute.

After I dropped him at his dad’s, I just sat in the car and cried.

It felt so wrong to be without him, and my family are in Ireland so I couldn’t be with them, either. Some local friends kindly invited me for lunch, which was lovely, but I knew from the experience that splitting the day wouldn’t work for us going forward.

Since then we’ve alternated Christmas and New Year between us and even the years without Billy have been lovely because I’ve been able to make plans by myself to rest and recharge.

I’ve built a local family of single parent friends, via the Frolo app, and Billy and I have even had a ‘Frolo family Christmas’. Getting on the app and connecting with others in the same situation is a huge comfort: it reminded me I wasn’t alone.

If you’re entering your first Christmas without the kids, please know that it will get easier every year. You still can (and will) make gorgeous memories with your children over the holiday period.

Here, Rebecca Cox, co-author of How To Be A Happy Single Parent, offers her top tips for surviving Christmas without the kids (as well as how to have some festive fun along the way).

Zoe Desmond (left) and Rebecca Cox (right)
Supplied by the authors
Zoe Desmond (left) and Rebecca Cox (right)

1. Rewrite the calendar

Christmas is measured in magical memories and moments, not dates on the calendar. If you have your children the week before or after Christmas, but not the week of, choose a day that works for you to have a special day all together.

Create your own traditions for the day so that it feels like Christmas Day, whether it’s your signature figgy pudding, multiple rounds of festive charades, or flat refusal to get changed from your Grinch pyjamas all day.

The kids will be happy to have two Christmases, and you’ll still create your magical family memories, regardless of the day you make them on.

2. Don’t shut yourself off

Speaking to us for How To Be A Happy Single Parent, psychotherapist Charlotte Fox Weber, author of What We Want, said: “Let yourself lean when you can. When you feel utterly alone, admit it to someone, even if it’s just to yourself. Say it aloud. It’s human and survivable.”

Loneliness can be amplified at this time of year. Firstly, remember that you are not alone. There are thousands of single parents up and down the country without their kids this Christmas, and many of them are feeling exactly like you are.

Reach out to friends and family, or members of the single parent community, for support.

3. Find friends

On that note, being without your kids at Christmas doesn’t mean you have to be alone. Of course, you might have had invitations from friends and family to spend the big day with, but being with other single parents sans children can also be a fun and fabulous way to make lemonade from lemons this festive period.

Two of our Frolo friends spent their first child-free Christmas Eve and Day together in London, face-timing their kids and supporting each other through their emotional wobbles, drinking plenty of fizz and cooking an enormous feast for two together. Sounds anything but lonely, right?

4. Be honest with yourself

Conversely, don’t be forced into plans you don’t want to make. Will being with other family members who have their kids with them be triggering for you? Or healing?

It’s completely understandable that you might be feeling stressed about Christmas Day without your children, so now is not the time for people pleasing. Don’t be afraid to say no to (no doubt well-meaning) family members who try to take you under their wing if you’re on your own on Christmas, if you would, in all honesty, be happier that way.

5. Join an online social

Log off from social media if seeing pictures of happy-looking 2.4 families all together by the Christmas tree or around the table will be difficult.

Instead, log on to an online social with friends, family, or a group for single parents for some company and festive cheer.

6. Volunteer

Christmas is a tough time of year for many people, for lots of different reasons. If you’re without your children this year, why not do something that would be more challenging to do if you had the kids with you, like some community volunteering?

Groups like Crisis run volunteer schemes to help the homeless over the festive period, while Marmalade works to make sure isolated older people are not on their own over the holidays.

7. Try to relax

Whatever you do on the big day without your children, try to take the time off to rest and recharge, so that you can enjoy the time you do have with them pre-or-post Christmas.

Make sure they know that you’ll be fine without them, too, so that they can enjoy their festive plans at their other home.

Much of single parenthood is about reshaping the ideals we thought we held for our adult lives, and Christmas is no different.

Give yourself permission to enjoy your time off from parenting this season, because there’s no greater gift you can give your children than happy parents.

How to be a Happy Single Parent is written by Frolo founder Zoe Desmond and journalist Rebecca Cox. Published by Piatkus, it is available to purchase online and in stores now.