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E39: Coping with the holidays after separation

On the Show Today You’ll Learn

With the holiday season approaching, Ben and Heather turn their attention to coping with holidays after separation or divorce.  To help them deal with this highly emotive issue, they welcome back to the program Elisabeth Shaw, CEO of Relationships Australia NSW.  Elisabeth is also a clinical and counselling psychologist with a specialty in couple and family therapy with over 25 years experience to share with our listeners.

Topics covered include:

  1. Why the holidays almost always seem to cause raised emotions and relationship difficulties.
  2. What emotions are most likely to arise when facing your first major holiday without your ex, and how to deal with them.
  3. Advice on how to agree on arrangements for children over the holidays.
  4. Helping children to deal with their emotions when facing their first holiday with separated parents.
  5. Taking kids away for the holidays – how to handle this with your ex.
  6. How to avoid feeling anxious and resentful when left alone over a major holiday.
  7. Dealing with adult children following separation.

At the end of the show Ben asked both Elisabeth and Heather for their one piece of advice for newly separated couples facing their first Christmas apart.  So make sure you listen to the conclusion of this episode!

Links & Resources Mentioned in This Episode

Relationships Australia NSW

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Full Episode Transcript

Welcome! Coping with the Holidays after Separation

Benjamin Bryant: Welcome to episode 39, the final episode of our podcast for 2022. I’m your host, Benjamin Bryant from Bryant McKinnon Lawyers and I’m joined by my partner in crime, Heather McKinnon. Welcome back, Heather. Can you believe it’s almost Christmas?

Heather McKinnon: No, I can’t. I can’t believe the year’s gone. I can’t wait to down tools and have that break over Chrissy.

Benjamin Bryant: Oh, yes. I’m looking forward to the holidays too. But we know for a fact that many of our clients are nervous about the holiday periods. People going through separation and divorce must figure out what a family holiday looks like after a family breakdown. And so holidays can be a really tough time. Luckily, we have a guest here to help. I’m delighted to welcome back our very first return guest to our podcast. Elisabeth Shaw is the CEO of Relationships Australia, New South Wales. She was with us about a year ago talking about deciding whether to stay or to go when a relationship is difficult. That episode, number 30, is our most listened show to date. Welcome back, Elisabeth. So good to have you on the show again.

Elisabeth Shaw: Hi, Ben and Heather. It’s great to be here.

Benjamin Bryant: It’s great to have you. And we’re so lucky to have someone with Elisabeth’s experience. As well as heading Relationships Australia New South Wales, Elisabeth is a clinical and counselling psychologist with a speciality in couples and family therapy. She has over 25 years experience in relationship issues, working with individuals, couples and families. I’m guessing that family holidays is a road you’ve been down on many times before, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Shaw: Look, absolutely. Whether it’s a first time after a serious family incident or whether it’s even the first few years after family changes. This is a time that I think we all stop and reflect and, wonder about what we’re walking into. And we have high hopes. And often they’re dashed even in the best of circumstances. So, understandably, it’s quite a fraught time and needs a fair bit of consideration and for some people bracing themselves.

Benjamin Bryant: Absolutely. And I want to dive right in. But just before we do that, I do need to do my usual little reminder to our listeners to share this show with friends and family who may be starting down the path of separation or divorce. We now have a really extensive library on a range of subjects and with a range of world class experts. So please help your friends and family by sharing this great resource.

Why do the holidays caused raised emotions and relationship difficulties?

Benjamin Bryant: Elisabeth, I want to start with a really general question. What is it about the holidays that so often causes raised emotions and relationship difficulties?

Elisabeth Shaw:  Look, I think the holidays, in a way, are a set up for us because we have such raised expectations that these are going to be the weeks or for some people, lucky enough, the month or a couple of months, where we get payback for all our hard work in the year. So we hang out for this chance to be with ourselves, our chance to sort of make up for good time with our kids and see people we’ve miss seeing for months sometimes because we’ve been too busy. So there’s a lot riding on it. And some of that emotion is about exhaustion and the needs that we have, our own deprivation, that we carry into it. We have high hopes for that recovery and rejuvenation. So that’s part of the set up. The other part of it is that we are often seeing people or establishing family times or times with friends that might be one off in the year. So there’s again, a lot riding on it. It may be families flying in from wherever. You see your in-laws in this very different way. Grandparents have expectations. Possibly it’s knife edge because you’re 95 year old grandparent, it might be their last Christmas. There’s an awful lot of things that heighten emotions. And there’s also the social norms that are about this period of time, whatever festivals you might be engaged in, from whatever cultural background, that this is a time you’re going to want to be with family, you’re going to enjoy being together. And that being a successful couple and successful parents is all about carrying that off. So I think when you look at how loaded it is, it’s no surprise, even in the best of times that we struggle. But it also, because of all of that emotional content, it means that if we’re walking into it with a family member that we’ve lost through death or, during the year there might have been a loss of a job and this is the first time the family is going to hear about it. Let alone walking into a festival holiday period when your relationship is really struggling. There’s every reason to feel very compromised at this time.

Benjamin Bryant:  And Elisabeth, not all holidays are created equally. You mentioned the festive season. Of course, you have the summer school holidays and the Christmas period. And also, thinking about the new year and what’s going to go ahead. I also know that I’ve even had friends that have sat there at the Christmas table and looked over and thought, never again. I never want to be in this position again. So it has this whole range of emotions. You’re right. And like you said, expectations of that period.

Elisabeth Shaw: Look. Absolutely. and I think for couples that are struggling, there’s  a couple of things happening. if we look at two extremes, but very common scenarios. One is that the couple is sitting there and one of them has already decided to go and thought, I can’t do that before Christmas. (or whatever festival one is celebrating) I can’t do it. I’m going to get through the booked holiday or the family events and then I have to go. So already one is acting a bit out or absent or distant or is carrying it off, and the other is totally none the wiser. The other example is, where I think they’re giving it one last chance. So they’re suspecting that’s the case. They’re hoping it’s not the case. And they’re using this period of time to prove it one way or the other. So maybe unbeknownst to one of them, or maybe they both know, this is kind of a final test case. So that’s yet another layer on top of everything else that’s going on.

Benjamin Bryant: Makes for an awkward Christmas.

Elisabeth Shaw: It certainly does.

What emotions are likely to come up when facing your first major holiday after separation?

Benjamin Bryant: And as we just touched on Elisabeth, separation and divorce add a whole new level of complexity to the holiday periods. If I’m facing my first holiday without my ex partner, what are the emotions that are likely to come up and how can I deal with them?

Elisabeth Shaw: Look, this is the time where you could feel particularly angry or betrayed about the circumstances of the separation. So this is sort of where the rubber hits the road. Festivals and family events over the summer holidays, along with birthdays and other sorts of anniversaries or times of significance through the year, they’re the times where you have to prepare and know that things are never the same. I think when you’re going about your domestic day to day life, you of course feel that all the time, but never more than when you’re supposed to come together as an intact family. And also your children are looking to you to recreate the rituals year after year that give them pleasure. So I think parents can feel very guilty and pained that they can’t carry that off for their kids. And they worry about the complexity of the dynamics. They can feel ripped off. They can feel relieved. There’s an awful lot of things that could be happening. There is also, of course, the unresolved nature of it. It could be that people are still coming to peace with the decision. And I think there’s a real fear about loneliness. That if I send my children off with the other person, then I will be alone and bereft. And I feel a bit panicky about what happens to me at home when I know everybody else is having a great time and I’m cut out of that. And it’s even worse if you know that a new partner has stepped into your spot in that other family. So I think it can be extraordinarily painful and it takes quite a lot of work to make sure that you’re protected in that time.

How to agree on arrangements for the children over the holidays?

Benjamin Bryant: And children take centre stage in the holidays. Do you have any advice on how to agree on arrangements for the children on the holiday?

Elisabeth Shaw: Look, the number one principle, that I’m sure Benjamin and Heather, you would agree, and what we aim for collectively, is to make child-centred decisions. And every parent would say they’re going to do that. They want to do that. But the emotion gets the better of them. And so they end up with a sort of messed up version of that, which is I think it’s in my child’s best interest to be with me at all times. Now that’s not necessarily in the child’s interest at all. It may be, but it also absolutely may not be. Representing your child’s best interests is truly standing in their shoes. And what that means is how can you show leadership to your children that you can carry this off and be okay? And that does involve a bit of fake it till you make it, which is a hard thing to do when you’re in great pain or in great rage yourself. But what you need to do is to be able to say, how can I create opportunities for my children to have a good experience with both parents without getting in the way of that? And that does mean getting yourself sorted. Because if your children think you are going to be bereft, lonely, sad and miserable the whole time they’re apart, they’re not going to feel free to go to the event and have a joyous time. So you have an obligation to your kids to really stand in their shoes and say, what do they need at this time? And what they really need is a loving relationship with both parents, if that’s possible. And for you not to stand in the way of that, even though you’re hurt. And that means things like not saying your mum or dad has left US because they haven’t left us, they’ve left the intimate adult relationship. And that takes a long time to work through. But that’s the best gift you can give your children at this time of year.

Benjamin Bryant: And Heather, do you have any advice for parents that have separated as to how to get a child focused time arrangement in the holidays rather than a fair arrangement, perhaps?

Heather McKinnon: Yeah, I think everything that Elisabeth said we then look to in getting practical arrangements. So one of the things that I’m very aware of is that, things like sharing Christmas Day may not be what is best for kids because they’re really in tune with the parents emotions and if it’s in one of those first Christmases after the family breakdown, they’re going to be walking on eggshells on Christmas Day. If you remember back to when you’re little, you only know about Santa until you’re about 8, year 2/year 3, and if your kids are in that age group, don’t wreck that memory of what it means to have Santa come. Try and work out whether you give them two Christmas days or how you’re going to do it. Keep the kids at all times as the focus. There are lots of creative ways of allowing children to share fantastic time between two families. And one thing I would say, if you are the person, for example, that’s not going to have the kids on Christmas Day: use it to reconnect with your siblings, your parents, your best friends. Have some me-time where you get your well filled up, so that when they come back into your care, you’ve got the energy to really give them that special memory of the holidays. They’re simple things, but it takes a lot of strength for an adult to set aside pain and lead by example. But I think Elisabeth’s wisdom is what you just got to put on repeat: lead, lead, show kids that you are a strong survivor. And that’s a life skill that’s better than any Christmas present. they’ll carry that with them forever. They’ll remember that their mom and dad in hard times came up to the medal, stood, lead and didn’t crumble.

Benjamin Bryant: And I think it’s also important to add, Heather, that when people are in an emotional state or a rage state, as Elisabeth referred to before, that it’s not one size fits all. What works for your brother or your neighbour or your sister or your aunt or whoever you’ve been speaking to, mightn’t necessarily work for your children. It’s not about fairness. It’s not a template that you can put on top. And as Elisabeth said before, we have this grief cycle. Not only do we have different stages of grief between the ex-spouses, but we also have the stages of grief for the children as well. And parents really need to be cognisant of that. They really need to have some insight as to what’s going on in their family unit.

Elisabeth Shaw:  I think while the leadership is really important, it’s also okay to say to kids, look, I do feel sad and, I might feel a bit lonely and I will miss you, but I’m actually okay with that because I’m a grown up and I’m choosing to do this today. And being with big feelings is actually okay. It’s survivable. It’s manageable. And I’m also going to do these other things with my day. But yeah, I might be sad and you might be sad. And that’s actually all part of the mixture at the moment. And we’re going to be okay with that Of course, if you can kind of cover up a bit, that can be fine. But don’t cover up to the point where there’s unreality. It’s more about saying big feelings are all right. And as an adult, I’m making a choice about this. I could have done any number of things today, but I’m going to do this. And I’ll so look forward to your experience and I want you to have the best possible time and we’ll compare notes at the end of the day.  That can be an okay version as well.

How can parents help children with their emotions?

Benjamin Bryant:  And Elisabeth, what about the children’s big feelings? How can parents help the children deal with their emotions?

Elisabeth Shaw: Look, I think it is really hard once the chain of events is underway to work out who’s feelings are who’s. Because kids will feel their parents’ feelings. and so even getting a sort of foothold on the boundaries of that, it can be quite murky and hard to work out, particularly if the parent is still on a journey and working it out. So I think it is very important to just attend to the child’s experience. Which is: “Look, there’s a lot going on in the family right now. I know it feels really tough. What you’ve got to hold on to is you’re very loved. You’re going to have even more experiences than you did before. And we’re all going to get through this. And by next year we’ll be fine. But this year, yeah, it’s a bit funny and it’s a bit rocky and it’s a bit new and we’re still working it out.”

Elisabeth Shaw: I think you can also use with kids experiences they’ve had usually at school. Saying goodbye to one teacher and you don’t even know what the New Year will bring and who the new teacher is. Or remember when we moved house and whatever it was, you know, remember transitioning to big school, whatever it is, sometimes you can grab another example where you know how it felt funny and we all had a good cry and then we started to get on with our lives.  So I think use what you can and make sure that your in-laws and friends rally behind your position. What you don’t need is to show leadership only to have grandparents say, we hate your mum or dad. All of that is very unhelpful. Even if you feel better to get some angry support from loyal family members. That too is only temporary and your children should be protected from that. So I think there’s grief. I think there’s also the worry about you as a parent. And if you’re feeling really angry and upset, you might be very glad to feel that loyalty and make use of it. So I’d really encourage you not to do that, but to say, the loyalty needs to be with both parents and that in fact, if they throw their lot in with one parent that often causes them and you trouble in the years down the track. So it’s actually not useful to foster that.

Do you need your ex’s permission to take the kids interstate or overseas?

Benjamin Bryant:  And often one parent wants to take the children away from home to visit other family over the holidays. Heather, a common question we get is, do you need your ex’s permission to take the kids interstate or overseas?

Heather McKinnon: So we might deal with the interstate first.  The first thing that people need to remember is that the Family Law Act, which is the law that governs these issues, is Australia wide. So we don’t have, like we had in Covid, like a boundary at the Queensland border or South Australia. So if you have an arrangement that says you’re going to have half the holidays, if you want to travel within Australia, as long as it’s within your time, that’s fine. But obviously the big issue here is respect. If you’re going to take the kids to Perth to visit your first cousin for two weeks over the summer holidays, it’s good to say to the other parent: This is my plan. This is how you contact me. This is where the kids will be staying and this is what the arrangement is. Always have that open communication so people don’t get their hackles up. But I think there is a big misconception that there’s state borders and you’re not allowed to cross them. Well it’s important to know that that’s not the case. You can take the kids to visit family or friends anywhere in Australia in your time, but just remember to keep the other parent advised.

Heather McKinnon: Overseas travel totally different. We have very strict regulation on border control in Australia and for kids to leave the country, they’ve really got to have a passport to start with and that requires both parents to arm them with that ability to travel. In many functioning families who are separated, if mum or dad is going to take the kids to Fiji for the Christmas holidays, normally what happens is you send an email: I’m taking the kids to Fiji. We’re staying at this resort. We leave Sydney on this date. We come back on this date and this is how you contact us while we’re away. Have you got any concerns or is that okay?  So give the information, because what you don’t want is someone undermining a holiday and saying, Yeah, that’s fine. Then you get to passport control and they’ve put a thing called a stop alert or an overseas watch order and you can’t leave the country. So it is all about communication.

Heather McKinnon: But if we do get that weaponising of holidays between parents and one person does want to take the kids overseas and it’s a realistic plan, then the court will encourage and give permission for the parent to go if they think it’s in the kid’s best interest. So in Australia, most children will get the opportunity to travel overseas before they become adults. The court’s very aware of the educational reasons why kids benefit from overseas travel. But there’s also a set of principles governing where you go. So taking kids to countries that are high risk or in war zones or have other issues involving safety of kids is an issue that the court is dealing with on a daily basis. So every case is different, as you said, Ben, but keeping the other spouse advised of your plans is the critical thing and making sure that any objection to overseas travel is raised sooner rather than later. It’s too late for us to get permission for someone to take the kids to the UK this Christmas. The court filings shut off ages ago. You’ve got to plan a long way ahead. So plan, communicate, try mediation if there is an issue about overseas travel. Ultimately, though, if you think it’s really good for the kids to go and the other parent’s saying no, you may have to get approval from the court. That’s the short answer.

Benjamin Bryant: And that’s the short answer. Well done. It just was great when you said weaponize the holidays. So true. What I would speak to that, Heather, is say parents when negotiating travel should separate the issues, whether it is in the best interests of children to go abroad and get international culture or see family members is different to the assessment as to what’s in the best interests of the parenting arrangements moving forward. It’s different in respect to the child support assessment. It’s different in terms of what is just and equitable in a property settlement. A lot of times, when you’re weaponizing it, well, I’ll let you go, but you have to enter into this private child support agreement or if you agree to sole parental responsibility when you get back, I’ll let you go. So separate the issues. They’re different things.

What’s a good way to negotiate holiday travel plans?

Benjamin Bryant: Elisabeth, do you have any tips on a good way to negotiate this type of travel?

Elisabeth Shaw:  Look in terms of, negotiating travel, there’s two parts to it. So one is certainly looking at: Should the children go? Is it safe for them to go? Do I trust that they should go and how do they have a good time and what are the arrangements? What’s the impact on the rest of the holiday? All of those sorts of things are important. You’ve also got to have a plan for yourself, which is how do I bear it? And I think if you have a plan for both, then you’ve got a better chance of staying with the children’s best interest. So the children need to be free to go, emotionally free to go, to know that you’re going to be okay, and that they’re really free to have a good time with the other parent. If you, though, haven’t got yourself sorted with a plan and you’re basically saying, I have no idea, I’ll just get the children on the plane and then I’ll sort myself out. You could end up feeling increasingly fragile as the days come up and the kids will pick up on that. And why should you suffer, and feel bereft during that time? I think just to really be aware that if, for example, the holiday is going to involve the person who left you, taking the children to some glamorous place that you now financially may never be able to do, the feelings of being incredibly ripped off and the loss of the life that you used to lead being played out in front of you, it is excruciating. And I think you’ve got to look after those feelings. And that does mean looking after your own holiday. And even saying to your kids, “No I’m just going to keep working”. Can  be quite a mixed tormenting message for them. So I think have a plan for your own holidays so that you can let this happen and to also talk to your children about how they manage being away from you. Because if they’re young, it’s not just about the loyalty to you and the worry about you, but it also could be I actually have never been away from you and how do I manage that? So I think helping your kids with their worries and fears and maybe their grief while you’re feeling it yourself is a really hard position to put a parent in. So I just want to acknowledge that. But I think as you help your child work it through with maybe a special teddy, you can put in their bag and say at night, why don’t you hug your teddy and I’ll hug mine and we’ll picture each other, things like that. A message that you might send them on their phone or in some recording that they can hear your voice where you could tell a bedtime story. It might be a little note you leave them that they can read at night. Whatever it is to take a piece of you with them is just to remember that’s more like a gift to keep them autonomous and mobilised rather than keep them tormented about you. So it’s trying to think of that being a gift to help them grow up in their own lives and enjoy the holiday that’s ahead of them.

Should you involve the children in holiday plan decisions?

Benjamin Bryant: And Elisabeth, that’s about helping children cope with decisions that parents have made in respect to the holiday periods. What’s your views on involving the children in the actual decision of the holiday period?

Elisabeth Shaw: There’s a couple of things in that. So depending on the age of the children, of course, this is going to be significant. I think it’s also remembering that there’s an adult piece first of all. Do you need time away from your children? So the first holiday, maybe you think, “Absolutely not. What a terrible thing to suggest.” But over time, these breaks actually could be quite important to you and are a way to rejuvenate. And even if you live together as a couple, you would be taking time out and doing separate things. And so to let yourself have that. So it may be that you want to enforce the boundary of time in each other’s house, because in the end it comes to matter to you as well. It’s about the children, but it’s also about you. So I think opening up the possibility for your children to discuss the holidays, you’ve just got to be careful that you also don’t compromise your time for a break, but also your opportunity to reinforce that a relationship with both parents is ultimately (and there’s a lot of research on this) is of great long term value for children. And they don’t have to have equal relationships with both parents. If they say look we don’t have as great a time at mum or dad’s house, to say, well, that’s all part of the deal. These are the parents you’ve got and you coach them into having a better relationship with the other parent or the other in-laws. Because that’s good for their growth. They’ve also got to navigate building better relationships with teachers and peers. So to let yourself say this is part of learning is important. But by the time they’re teens, it may well be that they have issues with where they’re going to go and for how long. I think, again, holding the boundary in the first instance is important until you really work out what’s happening. Is it that the other parent is not helping the young person navigate their friendships or is by taking them away, has not taken into account the new social life or arrangements they have? So sometimes there is a role to play in talking to the other parent about, what is at play. And it’s not any longer just about the couple, but it’s about having a full assessment of what’s going on in the young people’s worlds.  And where should individual decision making be in the mix? And as I say, you need to be careful about that because it can be very loaded.

What to do when your children are unhappy, even though you’ve tried your best.

Benjamin Bryant: And Elisabeth, what if you’re the parents that do everything right and you plan ahead and you’re civilised with each other and your children are still unhappy, what can they do?

Elisabeth Shaw: Well, look, I think it’s an interesting measure about unhappy, because we have to remember that out of loyalty and a whole range of things, children can express negativity. And so I think the first thing to notice is over time, on balance, do they mostly come home saying they had a reasonable time? And so to remember that “do we have to do this” may have no bearing on whether they eventually get to the other place and have a good time. Although if kids bookend it, I don’t want to go and at the other end of it say they didn’t have a good time, that can also be because they don’t have permission to tell you a story that it was great. So, there’s a lot of skill in trying to work out what’s going on. But if your children are free to talk about that, just to remember that, being a bit grumpy and disappointed in the arrangements and a bit sick of it over time is all part of the deal. So if they resent packing and they’re starting to sort of express this is a grind and why do I have to and why couldn’t the two of you just stayed together, that kind of stuff, to just say just to talk them through it, to be able to say, “Look, I know it is. And this is tough that our family’s like this. And, why don’t I help you pack today?” Or let’s talk about it for a minute. So just to remember that expressing some version of negativity does not mean that they are entirely unhappy to the point of being unable to cope with the situation.  Bad feelings are part of life and part of the deal. And I don’t think you can get everything right for all family members at all times. One or other of you are going to have mixed feelings at any one point. So I think where you stop and say this is entirely not working for us, that’s quite a high bar. You’ve got to be careful before you call it like that. But at that point, renegotiating the arrangements in a formal way might be what’s required.

How can you avoid adult children feeling stuck in the middle?

Benjamin Bryant: And Elisabeth, you just said any other family member. I just had a case recently where I’m acting for a dad and he ended up with a great outcome for his young children. But unfortunately, in the proceedings that took about two years to finalise, he lost his relationship with his adult children because of what went down in the proceedings.  What can we do about adult children? How can we prevent them from being stuck in the middle of this?

Elisabeth Shaw: Look, it’s amazing how adult children can have really significant issues with parents separating because some of them fear that in older life “Oh no, am I going to have more responsibilities from my parents now?” Or what does this mean about my inheritance? You know, some people go there. But I think also we can expect adult children to kind of carry this off in a much more accepting way than they really want to. And I think it’s to remember that adult children still have the fantasy of parents staying together. In general, if it’s possible kids want their parents to stay together. It’s neat and tidy and they want to leave home and know that they left you exactly where they last saw you, with their rooms preserved and the garage as it was and their childhood bikes still there. And you two are still together. So I think it’s being respectful that even adult children will be sad that it’s come to this. They will feel a bit cranky about their Christmases and festivals disrupted. Now they’ve got more to think through. How do they explain this to their kids? Just to remember it’s a process and not think, well, you’re a grown up. You’ve had life experience now. You should know and move through this faster. So I think giving everyone time and I think for any separating couple to remember that you’ve been thinking about it far longer than anybody else in your life usually. So you’ve already been through a process. So sometimes, just knowing that every family member, including grandparents, can have their own journey of grief and disappointment and those timelines might vary. It may be a person in the family that you thought would get over it fast, who struggles the most. And I think we get surprised by that. But we should be also not surprised by that. That’s part of the messiness of relationships.

Can you avoid feeling anxious and resentful if left alone over a holiday?

Benjamin Bryant: And Elisabeth, finally, just returning to Christmas, if the children are with your ex for a major day like Christmas Day, how do you avoid feeling anxious or resentful? I would have thought just laying on the floor, having eaten too much like the rest of us might help, but perhaps not.

Elisabeth Shaw: Look, I think it does depend on whether you do have other people in your life to turn to, because the assumption that there’s two families that you can just spend time with yours or you’ve got your own friends, it may well be that, you are living in a country that’s not yours, or, a lot of your social life just happened to be with the other family. Maybe your parents are dead. So I think the inequity can really be very painful. So just to remember that the first Christmas or cultural festival that you’re going through during December, may be the hardest, but to remember, it’s an opportunity for you to develop some protest and say, well, if it’s going to be like this, this is the first and last time I’m going to leave it like this. This was the best I could do this year. What am I going to do to start to look at the following year in a way that’s very different? Some people who don’t have relationships that they can immediately turn to say, well, this just shows up I need friends. I’m going to spend the day planning my strategy to meet people. You now can look online for who doesn’t have people to hang out with over this time. You can actually find a new group. Some people turn to volunteering. I think the whole question is the protest about I’m not going to leave myself in this position because I know it’s not going to be good for me. The other thing to do is also to spend some time reversing all of the training we’ve had to make it such a big deal of a day and to say, actually, my only job is to get through the day. It actually is a day like any other. And if I binge on Netflix and eat drumsticks, that actually is okay. And if I just get through it, maybe that’s okay. To get yourself through it is also a statement of resilience and to say, this is just my first year and it’s a journey and I’ll do it different next time.

What’s your one best piece of advice for separated couples over the holiday period?

Benjamin Bryant: They were heaps of great tips. Elisabeth, what’s your one piece of advice?

Elisabeth Shaw: The self-care is the most important piece, and to treat yourself kindly and to know that those big feelings need to be worked through. And you need good people in your corner to do that and that’s not something you achieve overnight. It’s messy and you’re going to be okay.

Benjamin Bryant: Heather, what’s your best advice on newly separated couples facing their first Christmas apart?

Heather McKinnon: Absolutely get your tribe, get people around you that are going to help you look at life in a different way. And creativity, I mean, apart from joining social groups, find things that really fire you up so that you can express yourself as an adult in a healthy way. Big plug in this area for things like Camp Creative, where you have a thousand people that come together in January in holidays where you may not have the kids with you and celebrate life. There’s lots of fantastic things out there to explore, and I wish that for everybody. And I might just add that I watched the first the first episode of the new Crown series last night, which is all about Charles and Diana having a reconciliation holiday, trying to keep the family together. And a lot of the things that Elisabeth’s spoken about are really well dramatised in that first episode. So check it out.

Benjamin Bryant: Cue the awkward Christmas. Well, Elisabeth, thank you so much again I think your advice is really going to help a lot of people in our community.

Elisabeth Shaw: It’s a tough time. So it’s great You’re covering such an important topic.

Goodbye for now….

Benjamin Bryant: And Heather, I think we’d better get busy on social media sharing this show before the holidays start. There’s just so much gold in here.

Heather McKinnon: Yeah, And I think, I’d like to get it up sooner rather than later so we can get clients to listen to Elisabeth’s wisdom, because it’s really important.

Benjamin Bryant: Absolutely. And that is a wrap for this episode and for 2022. We’re going to start next year talking about the housing market. We’re living through some wild times when it comes to house prices. And we will have two local experts on the show to talk about what happens when the market turns. Obviously, this is a topic that is on almost everyone’s mind at the moment, but it’s particularly important for couples who are separating and having to decide when and if to sell the family home. If you have specific questions about the real estate market, please send them to familymatters@bryantmckinnon.com.au or message us on Facebook and we’ll try to get the answers for you on the show.

Benjamin Bryant: We’ll put links to Relationships Australia New South Wales and any other resources mentioned in today’s show and a full transcript in the show notes on our website. And don’t forget, please share this show with family and friends who may benefit. We wish you all the best possible holiday season and look forward to having your ears again next year.

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