We are fast approaching the end of what has been a very strange and stressful year for most people across the globe. The pandemic has caused not only financial strain and employment uncertainty but has put huge pressure on families and relationships everywhere. We are now getting close to Christmas and although the government have announced a relaxation of the Tier System rules between the 23rd and 27th December, many people are very confused about what to do for Christmas celebrations. On the one hand they want to see extended family but on the other we all know that the virus will not be taking a week off. Keeping loved ones safe especially older more vulnerable family members is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Christmas can be a sad or stressful time for separated families at the best of times but this year with Coronavirus added into the equation, some families are having to make some hard decisions about their arrangements.
What are the Christmas Bubble Rules?
The main Christmas bubble rules listed below apply between 23 and 27 December:
- You may form an exclusive ‘Christmas bubble’ containing people from no more than three households.
- You can only be in one Christmas bubble and you cannot change your Christmas bubble at anytime once formed and you have met indoors.
- You are permitted to travel between tiers and UK nations for the purposes of meeting your Christmas bubble but only between the specified dates.
- You can only meet your Christmas bubble in private homes or in your garden, places of worship, or public outdoor spaces. You cannot meet your Christmas bubble in any other indoor setting, such as a pub, hotel, shop, theatre, or restaurant.
- You can continue to meet people who are not in your Christmas bubble outside your home according to the rules in the tier you are meeting in.
- You may NOT form a Christmas bubble if you are self-isolating or have symptoms.
- If you form a Christmas bubble, you should not meet socially with any other friends and family in your home or garden that you do not live with unless they are part of your Christmas bubble.
If everyone’s circumstances were straight forward these rules would seem simple enough. However, with most people there are grey areas where they aren’t sure how to apply the rules in their own unique circumstances. Here are some conundrums we have come across so far when speaking to people.
What if Members of the Same Household Want to Form Different Christmas Bubbles?
This is quite common especially where you have young professionals and friends living in shared houses. The guidance from the Government stipulates you need to take additional steps to prevent the spread of the virus within your home. For example.
- Stay with someone in your Christmas bubble for the week instead of returning home to mix with people not in your bubble.
- Take extra precautions in your home like cleaning door handles and surfaces more regularly and keep windows open as long as possible after someone has visited another bubble.
How Do Bubbles Work For Separated Parents Of Children Under 18?
For the children of separated parents who do not live together, the Government guidance is that they can be part of two bubbles: one for each parent. So, if the parents each have their own bubble for the Christmas week, the children can be part of both.
This makes sense as most separated parents who share the care of their children treat the two households as one because the children are constantly moving between them. During the first lockdown which started in March this year, this was the only way to keep the arrangements for the children constant even though there was no school.
However, we have seen disagreement and issues arise from the double Christmas bubbles. In one case, the children’s dad has arranged to include an elderly relative with underlying health issues into his bubble and the children will be with this bubble on Boxing Day. The mother has a frontline NHS worker in her bubble and the children will be with her on Christmas day. The father has quite rightly pointed out that the risk to his elderly uncle will be significant. The outcome is that through working this through they have come to the decision to swap the days over – so the children will all be with the elderly relative on Christmas day now and the NHS worker the day after. This reduces that potential risk to the elderly uncle.
The underlying point we believe is not to put any person at risk over Christmas just for the sake of a meal or a day together. But each person’s circumstances are very different, and a sensible judgement has to be made in these situations which as always should be done with open communication, empathy and a good listening ear.
Christmas Bubbles and Blended Families
So, in this situation we are talking about families who have children from two different sets of parents living in one house. If each set of children can have a bubble with each parent, potentially these children could be moving between 3 or more bubbles due to living with half brothers and sisters. Very complicated, and the Government Guidance does not incorporate advice for these scenarios which are actually very common.
Often, it will be the case that the children from all these different families and households will have been attending lots of different schools right up to the 17th December. One mother I spoke with, has 3 children of her own from a previous marriage – they are all in different schools. She then has another child from her second marriage who attends a 4th school. Her first husband also has children from his new relationship that attend a different school. Their Christmas arrangements and bubbles are very far reaching and the likelihood of spreading the virus is high if one of the children has contracted it at their school. The other issue was that each of the schools were interpreting the Covid rules in a slightly different way, one was isolating a whole year group if there was a positive test and the others were just isolating children who sat near the child who had tested positive.
Isolation and Separation Over Christmas
Sadly, for some separated parents they may find themselves in the situation where they will not see their children over Christmas if one household must isolate. We spoke to one dad who is very newly separated from his wife and he had just received news that she and their three children have to isolate for the next two weeks due to a positive test at her workplace. This is an expected and unavoidable turn of events and means he will now not see his children for the first Christmas of their separation.
Covid Tiers and Travel at Christmas
Where you live in the UK, will dictate what Tier regulations you are currently abiding to and this will also have a bearing on the Christmas bubbles for your family. For example, you can travel between Tiers during the Christmas week, so a person living in Tier 3 can travel to Tier 1 to be with a family bubble. Many people are also travelling back to the UK from abroad for Christmas to spend time with loved ones and family. In these cases, isolation and the utmost caution should be used to protect more vulnerable people. Tests have also been made available for students who are planning to travel home for the Christmas period.
Further Useful Articles for Separated Parents:
Happy Christmas From Progressive Mediation
Whatever your plans for the Christmas period we hope you have a happy time with the family and friends in your bubble. Luckily, we live in times where technology enables us to ‘see’ loved ones we can’t be with via video calls. There will be many Grandparents and extended family who will rely on this communication through what has got to be the hardest Christmas we have ever known.