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An open letter to other women with split families on Christmas.

As the sun rises on December 25, five Christmas stockings will hang from our timber staircase, bursting with small gifts and treats.

On a small table by our front door will be a half-drunk glass of milk, surrounded by cookie crumbs and Santa's footprints. There'll be munched-on carrots and spilt water, along with a note, written by Pretzel, our family's Elf on the Shelf

But come Christmas morning, those stockings will remain untouched, the evidence of Santa's visit unseen, while my husband and I sleep, undisturbed by overexcited children.

Watch: The things mums never say on Christmas. Post continues after video.

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Instead, those children will wake somewhere else. Their morning will be joyful and festive, and they'll empty their stockings and eat chocolates for breakfast. But they won't be with me.

This year will be the second time in 14 years that I'll spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning without my children. And I'm finding it even more difficult than the first time.

For the first three years after my separation, my children woke up with me on Christmas morning and went to their father's in the afternoon. Even this, I found hard. Saying goodbye to my kids on Christmas Day felt… wrong. We'd historically spent Christmas night eating leftovers, going through presents, testing out toys and trying on new clothes – relishing the festive remnants of the day.


I knew it was part of the process though, and so I just tried to get on with it, embracing the night-time festivities with the rest of my extended family, and having one too many champagnes, with the knowledge the kids were with their father, who also deserved time with them on Christmas Day. Eventually, the joy of Christmas expanded even further, thanks to the blending of two families, meaning I now had five children to celebrate with, instead of three.

By the second year, I'd accepted the situation and tried to embrace it – ride life's waves, so to speak. I began to look forward to a bit of 'adult time' at the end of a beautiful family-filled Christmas Day.

By 2021 though, it was time for our children to spend their first Christmas Eve with their father. And while I knew it was the right thing, it crushed me. I was back to square one in terms of acceptance.

I have always been obsessed with Christmas, especially the night before and the morning of, thanks to my parents, who created a type of Christmas magic that remains within me today. Christmas Eve was spent watching Carols by Candlelight, as we each held candles in handmade cardboard holders, a tradition that endured throughout our teen years and beyond. In the morning we'd rise early, empty our stockings, then embark on a slow and drawn-out present-giving ceremony that we wished would never end.


I continued the same traditions with my own children. Things evolved and expanded over time, but the excitement of Christmas morning never waned.

So, when they left on the afternoon of Christmas Eve two years ago, I felt lost. A searing sense of emptiness, that intensified as the night wore on. We'd hung the stockings out early, and prepared Santa's cookies, leaving carrots for the reindeer. I promised to set out the milk a little later, so it didn't go off, and I quietly did as promised before I went to bed.

I slid into sleep with a yearning for my children I'd never experienced before; a yearning that settled like a dead weight in the pit of my stomach, where it remained when I awoke on Christmas morning

Despite the heaviness, I didn't spend the day moping. I took photos of full stockings and Santa's snack table and texted them to the kids – something for them to look forward to in the afternoon, after an undoubtedly happy morning with their father's family. I embraced the day, enjoying an uninterrupted lunch with my extended family, and a slow and easy few hours.

And when the kids joined us, the magic returned. We did all the things, we just did them a little later than usual. 


That night I slept without the weight.

Two years later, as I approach another Christmas morning without the kids, some heaviness has returned, only it's sitting a little differently this year. Two years is a long time in the lives of children, and my eldest is now 14, my youngest is almost 10.

This year may be the last time all the children experience the pure and genuine delight of the Christmas morning discovery. It may be the last time my daughter wakes her big brothers at the crack of dawn, dragging us out of bed to watch them empty their stockings. I hope it isn't. But it could be. 

They say we experience many of life's 'lasts' without even realising it, only to take note after the fact, when the moment is behind us. But this potential 'last' I'm afraid I'll miss completely.

A universal experience. 

Empty. That's how so many women describe Christmas mornings without their children post-separation.

"It just feels wrong on so many levels," says Donella Little, who's just about to spend her third Christmas without her children.

"First year ever that I won't wake up with them. Can't for the life of me understand why this is ever expected of a mum," says Holly Hardstaff.

"Seems like a horrible joke." 

Recently separated for the second time, Brigitt Harris is quietly dreading Christmas Eve, when her 12-year-old daughter will spend the night with her father.


"Over the years there have been Christmases filled with family fun and the joy of watching my daughter unwrap her presents. With co-parenting, these are some of the sad moments we must face, and often alone," she says.

"I'll be hopping into bed early to most likely sniff and sob and watch Love Actually."

Despite the sadness, she's making space to do something for herself.

"Come Christmas morning, I will put on my big sunglasses, get myself a takeaway coffee and go for a walk along the beach. I may even go for a little sleep-in. 

"While there is some heartache this year, I'm choosing to wish myself a merry Christmas and do something that makes my heart a little warmer."

Listen to This Glorious Mess where we talk about how this silly season is actually the stressful season for parents. Post continues after podcast.

Finding silver linings.

This year, Kayla Jones* will spend Christmas morning without her children for the first time in 11 years.

Her voice breaks just saying the words, but she's trying to be pragmatic about something she has no control over. 

"I'm very used to waking up alone and I'm going to look for the silver lining, which I always do. I might go to the beach and have a swim by myself. Go for a big walk and then really look forward to the time that I do have with them for the rest of the day. 


"I'm taking the good and appreciating what I have and surrounding myself and the kids with lots of friends and love and lots of noise and people and music and laughs.

"I definitely thought about these types of occasions when I first separated and I think I'm doing better than I ever thought I could be. Because single mums are superheroes – we have invisible capes."

Jennica Fernstrom and her partner are taking off on an overnight camping trip rather than sitting around the Christmas tree without their respective children, while Donella plans to celebrate Christmas early with her kids, before enjoying an adults-only Christmas with her extended family on the 25th.

"I'm going to embrace it," says Emma Payne.

"I'm going to make myself what I want to eat, watch a movie and drink some wine, and Santa will do what Santa always does," she says. 

"Christmas morning I'm going to spend some time at a local aged care home and visit elderly people who have nobody to visit them on Christmas day before I pick the kids up after lunch."

On the years Roberta Fairbanks has her children, she makes it all about them. 

"We make it special and magic." 

And on alternate years, it's all about her. "We go on a holiday to a nice hotel, dress sup and splurge on a fancy Christmas lunch


"Everyone is different, and we must find what makes us create a new reality that makes us happier in the years we don't have them."

I'm trying to do the same. There's joy in every stage of life, and I look forward to spending a new version of Christmas magic with my children as they get older. 

This Christmas, I'll make the most of the lead-up – checking out Christmas lights, blasting Christmas music, and wrapping presents together. I'll make the most of our 'child-free' time, too. I’ll watch the carols with wine and cheese with my husband on Christmas Eve, wake up slowly, and have a relaxing lunch with the rest of my family, embracing the lack of responsibility for a few festive hours, and celebrate once again with the kids when they finally do arrive.

And I'll enjoy it. 

When the sun rises though, and my children bolt out of bed, I'll wish it was me they were waking up to. But knowing they're happy and loved by so many people will be the Christmas magic I cling to.

*Name has been changed for privacy. 

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