Christmas is here again and for many people it is a time to get together with family and reach out to extended family to enjoy the festivities together. However, for some people who have recently separated from a partner or spouse, new arrangements will need to be made. If the separation is civil and you both still communicate, a compromise can usually be reached and in some cases the parents can come together on Christmas day for the sake of the children.
For children, especially younger children, waking up early on a Christmas morning full of excitement to see what presents have been left for them is a massive part of Christmas. It is also the most enjoyable part of the day for the parents to see their happy, excited faces. After separation it is not going to be an experience that both parents can share in the same house, unless they are on very good terms. Here are some options for reaching a compromise that is fair to everyone:
- If parents are on very good terms – Christmas day can be shared with both parents being present. Alternate the houses so that each parent gets to host the Christmas day every other year. If there are new partners involved and everyone is happy to muck in together for the day for the sake of all the children, then that has to be the best option.
- If parents are on reasonable terms – Christmas day can be alternated between the houses, with the other parent coming over for part of the day or maybe just an hour or so.
- If parents are on bad terms so that they can’t be in the same room as one another. This is very sad for the children but to save a frosty and hostile Christmas day, parents will have to alternate Christmas and not spend the day together.
In all these scenarios, forward planning is essential. Parents and children need to know in plenty of time what the arrangements will be and who’s turn it is to have the kids. Agree between you which house Father Christmas will be stopping at and if you can, both contribute to the gift that will go in the stockings.
Don’t Make The Children Choose
The most important thing to be mindful of is that you will make your kids unhappy and stressed if they feel they must make a choice between their parents. If the arrangement is set to make it fair for alternating Christmas’s, then the children will accept that and be glad to spend time with each parent. If you want to involve the children in the decisions, then you must be prepared for what they might say and accommodate their choice.
Equally don’t ever be negative about the time the children will spend with their other parent, that will make them feel bad. Don’t make them feel guilty that they won’t be with you on the special day and that you will be sad and lonely without them. They will struggle to know what to do and will feel sad leaving you and feel guilty having a good time with the other parent. This is manipulation and using your child’s feeling to get your own way or to try to ruin the time they have with your ex.
Seeing the Grandparents
Seeing Granny and Grandpa over the Christmas period is also a very important part of Christmas for the children. Do not deny your children access or contact with your ex-partner’s parents over Christmas holidays. Whatever situation has arisen or whatever bad terms you may have left them on, it is so important for a child’s development to have regular contact with grandparents.
If grandparents live close by then arranging a day for the children to spend with each is not too difficult. However, if your ex-partner’s parents live miles away, you may have to reach a compromise for a day to be arranged to spend with them.
Everyone will have to be flexible with arrangements and accept that after separation, it simply won’t be possible for everyone to spend Christmas day together as perhaps they once did. If everyone has the children’s best interest at heart, then everyone can be flexible but fair when it comes to making the plans.
Although Christmas presents would seem to be the most important thing to any child, really, they just want to feel loved and have fun family time. However, communicating with your ex-partner or spouse about what gifts you will be giving will save you both the stress and hassle of trying to work out what the other parent might have got for them. Liaising on this could even mean that you might decide to give a joint present from both of you which will show the children you have come together to get them a larger present they know is perfect.
Don’t try to ‘buy affection’ by getting a ridiculous gift that has been purchased to ‘out-do’ the other parent. This can be a common behaviour of the parent that doesn’t see the child as often since the separation. Overcompensating in this way won’t fix anything and younger children aren’t aware of the monetary value of things anyway.
When it comes to helping the children choose and buy a gift for their other parent, you must once again, set your feelings aside and realise that it is important for your child to feel they can give something to their other parent from themselves. You are doing this for your child’s benefit, so try to keep that in the forefront of your mind.
Another issue that has arisen in parents we have spoken to is the other parent buying age inappropriate games for gaming consoles. In this instance the parents of an 8-year-old boy were arguing because the Dad had bought an Xbox for his son and was then allowing him to play Fortnight which has a has a PEGI rating of 12. As this was all set up in the Dad’s house the mother felt she had no control over this, and the game was clearly designed for older children. It caused a real problem for the parents who had mostly managed to agree on arrangements until that point.
If you are Alone This Christmas
If it’s not your turn to have the kids and you won’t be joining them for any part of the day remember it will be your turn next year or perhaps you will be spending another day or two with them over the holidays. You can make your time with them positive and happy and have your own fake Christmas with them. Make sure that you make arrangements with friends or other family, so you don’t spend the day alone.
A separated Mum said:
“It is the kids’ turn to be with their Dad this year, which is sad for me, but with the ‘every other year’ arrangement that we have it is the only fair way to do it. I have had plenty of time to make plans with friends so that I don’t spend the day alone. I will be doing our fake Christmas Day with them on Boxing Day with my side of the family, so I suppose in a way they get two Christmas Days!”.
How Can Mediation Help?
Sadly not all separated couples are able to remain amicable and find it very difficult to communicate to make arrangements in general about the children, let alone agree on plans for Christmas. Mediation can resolve disagreements between separated parents to find a way to move positively forward with the children’s best interests considered. There may be ways to work things out that neither parent had thought of.
If you would like to find out more about how we can help separated parents with Mediation, call Frances on 0788 9039393.