Surviving Christmas: tips for separated parents

Christmas, for many, is all about children. The excitement of the tree being decorated, the school carol concert, the anticipation of receiving gifts – it can be a very emotional period, particularly so for those dealing with the added pressure of a past separation from a former partner, and all that brings in respect of complications for family life.

Here Amanda McAlister, managing partner of the Group’s specialist family and children law practice, McAlister Family Law, offers her top tips to separated parents for surviving Christmas.

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Trying to agree contact arrangements and when or where the children will spend time with each of their parents can be difficult at the best of times, but there is something about the emotions around Christmas that can cause real problems.

Issues of managing and maintaining contact with children following separation can of course become a difficult issue for parents living apart; while any difficulties in the relationship may well be those of the parents, it is the children who can reluctantly find themselves in the midst of adult arguments, confused that those to whom they look for guidance are not getting along and often incorrectly blaming themselves for either parents’ upset or even anger.

Focus on the children’s needs

It is easy and perhaps natural for a parent going through such a difficult time to concentrate on themselves at these times, but it is very important, if trying to sort arrangements out amicably, not to lose focus of a child’s needs or emotional wellbeing when they may already be feeling overwhelmed and trying to understand why their parents might not be friends, as  well as feeling distress and confusion about their new family circumstances.

If charged with deciding, the court will determine matters in accordance with what is in a child’s best interests. As such, even if it’s not what you want to hear personally, try and listen to your children, they may well help you in taking a step back from your own bubble and decide what’s best for them.

Plan ahead, and keep lines of communication open

Good forward planning and open lines of communication with the other parent are essential when working towards organise your children’s Christmas. Despite past difficulties, there are families who are able to work together to the extent that they can celebrate Christmas together, although sadly this is not the usual situation.

However, whether you and your former partner are on good terms or not, taking the time to plan your child’s Christmas gives each other time to come to a mutual decision about what’s best. From selecting Christmas presents together or arranging how and where the children are going to spend time with each of their parents over the festive period, the welfare of your children is what’s important.

Modern families

And it’s not just parents to consider; modern families come in all wonderful shapes and sizes. One-size-fits-all arrangements will not work in all circumstances no matter how hard one tries – you are likely to have to factor in each side’s extended family, there may be other siblings, and more – it takes time and effort to make the arrangements as special as they can be.

Two Christmasses?

I have seen arrangements agreed where the children have spent the first half of Christmas Day with one parent, opening their presents and having an early lunch, before being able to spend the afternoon and evening with the other parent.  Some families even have two “Christmas Days”, each one celebrated with either parent and alternated each year, particularly if families are separated by a considerable distance and therefore decide to take turns to have the children with themselves over Christmas or New Year.

It isn’t easy but it needn’t be difficult either. A little bit of seasonal good will can go a long way and we would encourage you to try and give a little to reach an agreement that will suit everyone involved, particularly your children.

If you’re affected by any of the issues raised here, please get in touch immediately. We’re here to help you.