Tis the season to be jolly but for those divorced or separated parents, and their children it can be the season for stress and disappointment.
But it does not have to be that way. Of course, managing Christmas post-separation is no easy feat but with some careful planning, compromise and putting the children first you may find some peace this festive season after all.
Christmas is chaotic but organising a co-parenting schedule on top of everything else is never going to be easy.
- Where are the children going to spend Christmas?
- Is the time going to be split between Mum’s and Dad’s house?
- If so, how long are they going to spend at each parent’s home?
- Or are they going to spend the whole period with one parent, with the other parent getting them the next year?
But remember as hard as this can be for the parents, it can be just as difficult for the children. After all, they may not want to appear to favour one parent over the other and may feel guilty when they must make a choice.
Put the children first – always
First and foremost, put the children at the heart of all the plans you make. A different type of Christmas can still be a good Christmas, so make new traditions and rituals. Talk about the positive: two Christmas Days, two sets of presents…
Plan – early
Sit down with your ex, as early as you can, get the calendar out and look at how you are going to share the Christmas break. Sorting this out early gives you the time to discuss plans and compromise to create arrangements that work for you all.
Putting a plan in place can help to prevent any time pressures and enable you all to enjoy the festivities. Sharing it with the children means they know where they will be throughout the holiday and the routine will make them feel safe and secure.
Creating a visual plan can help as dates can be difficult for a child to understand. How about a Christmas themed wall planner for younger children or a joint Google calendar for the tech-savvy teenagers in your life?
If contact and communication are difficult, and in the absence of an order or arrangements, please do consider mediation and/or amicable correspondence through solicitors. And keep the conflict away from the children.
Stick to the plan
It is important that, whatever arrangement you come to, you try your best to stick to the plan.
Last minute changes can cause feelings of disruption and uncertainty for children. And, whilst flexibility is an essential part of positive child arrangements, it is important to maintain consistency and provide stability.
In many situations, coordinating presents will not be possible.
However, Christmas must not descend into a competition between you and your ex-partner about who can buy the children the hero presents.
Where you can, get together to discuss and coordinate gifts as this will help reduce the risk of tension and conflict between you both and less stress for the children.
Remember the perfect Christmas is a myth
Trying to have a perfect Christmas is doomed whatever your relationship status. Instead, focus on simple and easy new traditions: A Christmas Eve movie night, a Boxing Day walk with hot chocolate and don’t forget the build-up to Christmas, perhaps a Christmas Fair or Santa’s Grotto trip.
Please do remember it is just one day and it’s not set in stone anywhere that you cannot have your Christmas dinner on Boxing Day, or the day afterwards, or the day after that.
If you are newly separated and struggling this Christmas – have hope. It will not be like this forever. My parents divorced in my late-20s and we can now all spend Christmas together (we even managed 3 days in London last year). I have found that letting old issues go and biting your tongue at times certainly helps.
So, stay calm, compromise and treat yourself with compassion this Christmas. And as I always think as long as we are not eating garage sandwiches or a frozen pizza from the oven, it’s not so bad.