"The man as he converses is the lover; silent, he is the husband." ~ Honore de Balzac

Friday

The trauma of waking up without my child


'If you are on your own on Christmas Day, you can't candy-coat the fact that something has gone wrong in your life'

Usually, come Christmas morning — well, 4am to be precise — I’m woken by the squealing of over-excited children and the tell-tale rip of paper. I can hear every ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ as my 12, nine and five-year-olds open the sack of presents Father Christmas has left them. 

Last year, the high point was when my five-year-old daughter unwrapped her Barbie pony. It was a toy I’d also had as a child, so seeing her at the side of my bed, clutching it with eyes like saucers, was one of those moments that make all the boring bits of motherhood — the cooking, the cleaning, the battles over homework — worthwhile. 

This year it will be different. There will be no happy squeals, no little feet thundering up and down the hall. No huge, messy pile of wrapping paper. Instead, there will be just me and silence. Oh, and the dog.

That’s because for the first time ever, I will be waking up on Christmas Day without my children. 

The problem is that Christmas makes the difference between the real and ideal so obvious. For example, when you have children, you build up a store of Christmas family traditions, such as playing a particular board game after Christmas dinner. For us, it’s eating chocolate for breakfast in our pyjamas. 

When your children are away, you lose not only them but your little rituals and therefore the whole ‘shape’ of Christmas Day. I did once go away for Christmas without the boys before my daughter was born. I was with my then husband and his family in the West Midlands. 

They were very kind but having a gaggle of children there who were not my own was awful. I managed till 3pm before almost bursting into tears over a ‘family’ game of Cluedo. The lack of my own family was simply too much to bear.  

The most difficult thing about being a divorced parent on Christmas Day is the emotional loss and feeling of failure. As far as I’m concerned, being childless on December 25 feels like having one of those huge comedy hands pointing at you, saying: ‘Sad divorcee.’ 

Every lone parent will testify that there are many occasions when you feel the fact that you are not part of a conventional couple. School plays, parents’ evenings, birthday parties, holidays — all need to be negotiated with care. 

But nothing brings it home as hard as Christmas. It’s the time of year when the imperfections in adult lives are exaggerated. John Lewis might like to consider re-uniting a snowman with his ex-snowwoman and their snowchildren as a poignant Christmas campaign next year. 

I know some post-split parents get over the problem by reuniting for the big day. But what do you do with all the extended families — yours, his, plus potential new partners?


If I assembled my family, both my exes’ families plus my three siblings’ partners’ families, I’d need Wembley Stadium to fit them all in. And that’s if they’d agree to be in the same place at the same time. 

Of course, compared to some I’m lucky. At least I’ll be seeing my children later in the day. But even having them dropped off halfway through has its challenges. There’ll be the hasty handover on the doorstep. The children will rush in, eager to get to a fresh pile of presents, tossing byes over their shoulders as they go.

Their fathers will hover awkwardly as we say Merry Christmas. 

At least once the children are home, I will value them more because I haven’t had them all day. So while their dads and stepmums may be flagging, I will be fresh and delighted to see them.

In the meantime, when I wake on Christmas morning I will try my best to enjoy the quiet — so rare as a mum-of-three. I will eat chocolate in my pyjamas on my own and have my lunch for one with the dog. It’s just a shame she hasn’t learned how to pull a cracker yet…

ag·o·ny
ˈaɡənē/
noun
  1. extreme physical or mental suffering.
    "he crashed to the ground in agony"
    • the final stages of a difficult or painful death.
      "his last agony"
















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"So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home." (Tecumseh).

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