Christmas is a hectic time of year for any parent, but it can carry extra stresses and strains for separated families – where parents are separated or divorced. Despite the challenges involved, there are steps you can take to make things a little easier:
It’s their time, so where possible, they should have contact with both parents. This allows them to share the experience of Christmas period with both Mum and Dad. This is ideal, even if this is at different times. It is becoming common practice in court now to alternate Christmas between parents from year to year. This allows each parent to have the children overnight for Christmas Eve, and be with them for Santa’s arrival. Outside of the court arena, parents can be as flexible and creative with Christmas arrangements as they want or need to be. The essential thing is to avoid unnecessary confrontation with your ex-partner. This would only increase conflict and lead to stress and anxiety for the children.
Where possible agree the details of access arrangements well in advance of Christmas and New Year. Include details of times, locations and who will collect, who will return. If it’s not possible for physical access, then try to look at options like telephone or skype to maintain connections. Again, agree the times and the protocols around this to avoid conflict. If agreed in advance, the children can know what’s happening and a schedule can be posted on the fridge. This means they know when to expect the other parent. And don’t forget, if you have made arrangements, stick to them!
Remember to share event information. For example, make sure that your ex-partner is aware of Christmas events which the children will be taking part in. School Nativity Plays and Carol Services are a rite of passage for children and parents. Setting aside your own conflicts so you can both attend and enjoy you children’s events is the thing to do.
Plan the Finances: Christmas is an expensive time, and the cost of children’s presents can be a source of unnecessary conflict between parents. Parents can opt to provide their own presents in each home or agree one joint present. Either way it is important to agree a budget. This is because Christmas expenses are not generally covered under regular weekly maintenance unless specifically stated. If opting for a single present in one home, it is vital that there is consultation about this – the item and the cost.
This might seem like an unusual piece of advice. But whether we accept it or not, alcohol may increase the risk of conflict. Avoiding alcohol around the times you have contact with your children and your ex-partner will keep matters calmer. It will also reduce the risk of unexpected arguments.
It may also help to talk to people who have been down this road before you – other separated or divorced parents. Listen to their experiences and take on board what has worked well for them.
There is lots of other useful advice out there for parents, from organisations like Parents Plus. Check out their article on how to cope with your first Christmas as a separated father: click here.
If you need advice or support on any of the issues raised above, please call Alan Finnerty on 01 637 6200. Or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Padraig Ó’Moráin, Irish Times: For separated parents, now is the time to start talking about Christmas
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