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Call a Christmas truce

“If soldiers could declare a truce at Christmas, why can’t warring parents? Even in the midst of war, there can be peace.”

At the darkest time of the year, for people of many faiths, a light comes shining through the darkness. December is one of the most beautiful months: we place lights in our homes, in gardens, in our parks, to light up our streets, and on beautifully decorated Xmas trees to celebrate festivals that give us hope and faith for the year to come.

My own family celebrates Chanukah, the ‘Festival of Light’, with children lighting different-coloured candles every night for a week. They sing festive songs, eat doughnuts and tear their presents open with sticky fingers.

When our son was still a toddler, we took him to Disneyland for Xmas. On Xmas Eve we stood in a long winding queue round an enormous, beautifully lit Xmas tree, waiting to meet Santa. We could hear his booming American voice wishing each spellbound child in turn, “Merry Christmas little one!”

Finally it was our son’s turn, and he toddled into Santa’s Grotto. Santa looked at our awestruck little boy, staring open-mouthed with wonder at Santa’s red outfit and luxuriant grey beard.

“Happy Chanukah little one” said Santa out of the blue. I laughed and said, “How do you know?” He winked and replied, “Father Chanukah knows everything”.

Knowing that light in the darkness brings hope to everyone in the world, I feel so sorry for families experiencing breakdown. For them, this year’s festivities will not be as they were. As Xmas approaches, I have been listening to parents expressing concern, pain and anger that domestic turmoil will ruin their children’s Xmas. For children, Xmas should be full of light, hope and love – and nothing less. They shouldn’t have to endure the fall-out from ongoing vitriol, the distress of divorce proceedings and the time it takes to conclude a settlement. At Xmas, when children are away from their parents, or if the holiday period is divided up with disproportionate contact, the parents’ pain is very real.

I believe that with a good deal of effort, it is possible to place emotions on hold at Xmas, if just for a brief period of time. In 1914, English and German soliders fighting in the First World War declared a truce on Christmas Eve. For a few hours, the Great War stopped and the soldiers played football against one another. Even in the midst of war, there can be peace.

This is the advice I have been giving my clients. I readily admit that it is easy for me, with my grown-up son, to preach from behind my desk. Nevertheless, the prospect of a temporary Christmas truce should not be discounted. The children matter most, and are created out of parents’ love and hope, faith and trust in each other during better times.

At Xmas time, do parents’ interests matter at all? It seems to me that this is a magical time of year when parents should concentrate on the selfless act of giving – giving of themselves if necessary – for their children’s sakes.

If it means that children can think only of the wonderful Xmas they are having, and for just a short while can be freed from guilt about an absent parent and can forget that they are enveloped by a battle between the people they love most in the world, the effort is worthwhile.

Isn’t enjoyment what this special time is really about for all of us, parent or child? For some, the pleasure will come from seeing their children. For others it will be the comfort of knowing that they have truly given of themselves.

Not everything in life goes perfectly to plan. Few amongst us remain untouched by the harsh side of life. But generosity of spirit and kindness of heart produce better adults and act as guiding lights and beacons to children – and their children – for life.

And that, I believe, is what the light shining in the darkness teaches us.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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