Child contact and separated families at Christmas
Your first family Christmas following divorce or separation may take some getting used to. You may feel anxious as the holiday approaches. Certain rituals and traditions will take on a different feeling. Allow yourself time to adjust to the new circumstances. If, as a result of a change in your circumstances, this year you will see your children for part of Christmas Day or a specific time period then it pays to be prompt and honour the times for handover. This will help to prevent tension and possible arguments. It is important that the children involved will see that both parents can work together in order to give them a happy Christmas. It may also mean that the children do not suffer as much anxiety about leaving one parent and going with the other at handover time.
Some parents are already in an alternative year arrangement. If you know that this year it is not your year to have the children on Christmas Day it can be very hard as the season approaches. Try to remain positive and spend as much time as you can with your children in the run-up to and after Christmas. Try not to show outwardly any upset or frustration or sadness in front of the children. They will easily absorb any tensions or upset. This may have an effect on their celebrations.
It may also be useful to plan a second Christmas Day with your children when they come to stay. Although it will not be the 25th December, you could have another Christmas dinner. Give presents, watch films and play their favourite games. This will give you a chance to create memories of your own and take photographs to treasure for years to come. Having two Christmas Days that they both thoroughly enjoy with each parent will have a positive impact on the children. They really can then enjoy the holiday. You may try and establish your own new traditions with your children. This could include tracking Santa on the internet on Christmas Eve or setting aside traditions such as decorating the tree, baking Christmas biscuits and cakes or making decorations with your children when they come to stay.
You may also find support in your wider family. Separated families will more than likely include grandparents. Consider whether the children would benefit from seeing their grandparents celebrating with your wider family. This will help remind them that they have a bigger family who are all happy and supportive of the arrangement and the separated parent. This will aid the children’s’ feelings of security. It can also provide a wealth of happy memories of family Christmas with both sides of the family. It will also be of great support to the separated parent to have their family around them at this time.
Helpful tips for the Christmas period
Although Christmas can be a very stressful and difficult time to organise, the following tips may prove helpful:
- Try to coordinate presents for the children with the other parent. This can help avoid purchasing the same gift and ease stress.
- Never use your children to pass messages or ask them for information regarding the other parent’s circumstances
- Do not talk negatively about the other parent in front of your children.
- Your children should not have to choose between either of you. For example, do not try to coax the children by offering a special activity.
- Support any arrangements that benefit the children.
- Allow yourself time to deal with your own feelings.
- Speak to family and friends and surround yourself with positive support.
- Try your best to stick to any plans made with the other parent.
- Being able to negotiate effectively together is a big part of a successful holiday.
- Try and present a united front. If you do mention the other parent, try to describe things in a way that shows you are supportive of each other’s parenting.
- Keep any rules that the children know. Any consistency and routine will help the children to feel secure. If your children have questions, be honest with them, within reason. Answer honestly any questions regarding the situation but no child needs to know any details for adult conversation only.
Spending time on your own over the holidays without your children can cause feelings of loneliness, isolation and even anger. It is very important during this time to take care of yourself and learn how to deal with your feelings. Don’t suppress thoughts of sadness or loneliness. Share your feelings with your family and friends when it is appropriate to do so. If you know you are not going to have your children on Christmas Day, for example, plan a get together with friends or family and try to keep busy. It may also be possible to get together with other separated parents and support each other during this period.
If legal proceedings are on-going throughout the Christmas period, this can also increase tension and stress. Under no circumstances should you sign any documentation without speaking to a solicitor. If you receive any such paperwork, take it to your legal adviser after the Christmas period.
Remember there are many groups and organisations that support separated and single parents such as Separated Families and Gingerbread.
Should you require any advice on money debt and finance then contact your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau.
If you have any concerns regarding the family circumstances over the Christmas period or indeed how contact arrangements went, then talk to one of our family solicitors.