I’ve been coparenting my son for longer than I’ve ever parented any other way.
His father and I went our separate ways on Boxing Day three years ago, and it was the best decision for both of us. But it wasn’t one without heartache. You sometimes have to choose yourself in life, over your children, because, ultimately, that is the best decision for them too. Though seeing that at the time is like trying to see the wood for the trees.
I didn’t know that, through the clearing of trees there would be a whole new wood, and Mark, and a new place for us to start afresh. Because I couldn’t tell the future. I only knew that, in the present, my son’s father and I, were not happy. There was no wood, there was no Mark, there was just me and my son and a chance to take.
The first Christmas was already just over when we were. And then the second I had Bill for Christmas – he was still quite small at just two – and then his dad had him for New Year’s.
But, as time passed, both of us, as parents, were not happy to lose out on alternate years. Not seeing your child on Christmas Day is heartbreaking. For me, the magic of Christmas lives on in my children, now I am very much old enough to understand that Father Christmas is usually Neil from the village in an itchy suit, and that the person that ate the mince pie was Mark, and the person that nibbled the carrot was me. I know that the magic is love. And, as corny as that sounds, we all know it’s true, and we all know it’s okay to admit at this time of year.
So last year, we decided to split Christmas down the middle. I was due a New Year’s with my son, so I took Christmas Eve and Christmas Day morning, and his dad took Christmas Day afternoon and Boxing Day. And, either way, you can’t quite win.
I was pregnant with Bill’s little sister, and extremely hormonal. The run-up to Christmas caused me a lot of grief. And it was something I couldn’t quite prepare for. I didn’t expect it to hit me, cold in the face like a snowball with perfect aim. I cried a lot. And even my midwife kept a close eye on me, because she could see how down I had become.
Maybe it was pregnancy that caused those feelings to heighten. Maybe it was because it was our last Christmas as a family of three. Bill, Mark and I – we had come together and were a real family now. Or maybe it was just that first year of acceptance.
Either way, my Christmas was spent slightly far away. I was present in the gift of the present, of course I was, but my heart was somewhere else. I wondered what he was doing. My smiles took longer to fill my face. And even though my daughter wiggled away inside me, I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t a mum.
We had a last-minute Christmas Day on Christmas Eve, and it was magical. But I never shared the photographs or the footage I captured. And I dug it out today and cried tears of happiness, because it was so special, regardless. And my little boy was so tiny. I edited and posted it live today so I would never lose it.
I think, in the early days of coparenting, it is easier to hate the other parent of your child. Many splits end badly and, to be honest, in our case, I think we both needed to hate each other for a short while. I really do. I think we needed to let out our frustrations that had built up, and work out a new way of doing things on fresh ground, still smoking from the last blazing, fiery row.
During those times of hate, it was easier to make selfish decisions, because you could kid yourself that it was not your responsibility to care about this person anymore. And you want your child for yourself. Of course you do. You are human. It’s fine to admit it.
But as time has passed, I very much understand that emotions are often mirrored, and when I hurt, that means his dad hurts. And it means that a lot of other parents hurt too. And I certainly would never use the word ‘hate’ anymore at all.
This year, I have kept busy and put Christmas in the distance – I can see it if I squint. But it’s not been in focus. But today is the last real day of working for me. Even if it is sat in my living room, on a battered office chair, while my baby naps, my son is enjoying his last school day of the year, and Mark is relaxing on the sofa behind me.
But, truthfully, Christmas is not even around the corner, it just a few doors down. And I have had to think and look it square in the face.
And this year? I am okay, you know. I am sad that I won’t get to do the excited tuck-up in bed on Christmas Eve, or put reindeer food out, or nibble the carrot and watch Mark gladly scoff the mince pie and give the cats the milk.
But I’m quite happy to pass on the platter we put the treats for Father Christmas and his reindeer to Bill’s dad if it helps make it special for him. I’m quite happy to send the reindeer food. And I’m quite happy to do anything that my son might need to feel loved and special.
When I became a mother, I told myself I would do my absolute best to keep the magic of childhood alive for my kids. I would be a mixture of Maria from Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and a touch of Nigella for the festive food. Maybe I just like Julie Andrews too much, but the fact remains – I want this to be about my children.
This year I have two babies. One will leave my side. And the other will clutch at my hair and grin a two-toothed grin at me with shining eyes, whilst not having the faintest clue what is happening and why her mother’s eyes may be slightly wet with held-back tears.
I owe it to Daisy to keep Christmas magical for her too. And I will keep smiling and keep going because she deserves that.
We will start our Christmas missing a very important person.
But he is coming home to us. And on Christmas Day, when the clock strikes twelve, midday, my firstborn will be at my door, grinning, his breath hitting the cold air making whorls around him, and desperate to get inside and see what Father Christmas has left him at home.
And I will hold him close. Breathe a sigh of relief into his fluffy blonde hair. But I will stop and look up, at his dad, and I will try and let him know that I understand.
And I will wish him Merry Christmas.
Because, another year older, and another year wiser, I realise that this is what Christmas is about.
Christmas is so much more than a day. It is a feeling that, if we could bottle up, we’d open it every day.
Parenting is so much more than a day. It is much the same. Except we are a mother, or a father, every day. And whether near or far, happy or sad, nothing in the world can take that away from you.
“What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”
Dr. Seuss – How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Also – if you are having a tough time this Christmas, please watch this video from Channel Mum – it contains stories from me and some other amazing mums. I promise you aren’t alone.
You could also watch this one below.