Planning Christmas if you're separated

October 17

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Christmas is a time when everything can go horribly wrong for the children of separated parents. It is traditionally the time of year when families get together, often travelling long distances, to celebrate the festive season. For separated families this is a bitter-sweet occasion. It can bring back memories of previous, happier Christmases and remind them of what has been lost as a result of the break-up. Children are all too often caught in the middle between warring parents, each of whom may trying to justify why the children should spend Christmas Day with them. 


As mediators, we notice that there is often a rush of cases in November and December in which these issues arise. They are usually fraught sessions in which either the parents have not yet discussed the arrangements for Christmas, or where one of them wishes to change plans that had already been agreed.


However, it does not have to be like this: help is at hand! Here are our top 10 tips for a more peaceful festive season:



1 Plan ahead

Children welcome a sense of order and predictability, so plan ahead and in good time.


  • Sound out any extended family and friends who may want to put in their ‘bid’ for spending some time with the children over the Christmas period
  • Keep all extended family involved during the holidays (even if it can only be through email, cards, phone calls). They are still an integral part of your children's lives and provide them with continuity and security in the face of your changed family structure


2 Don’t put pressure on children to choose between you


Children should always be able to love both parents and to share their time between them without feeling guilty


  • Think about how you are going to get the children’s input without putting them under pressure to choose between their parents, or between other members of the family
  • Present the children with your decisions as a ‘united front’ with the other parent, if you can


3 Listen to the children

  • Listen to your children:  they may ideas about how to make Christmas work for everybody 
  • If your children are old enough to ask them directly how they want to celebrate the holidays, then this can lead to a natural discussion of what they're thinking and feeling. 

4          Be positive about children spending time with both parents

  • Try not to communicate negative feelings about the other parent through your words or behaviour. Your children will be taking their cues from both of you
  • When the children go to stay with the other parent, don't make them feel guilty that you'll be on your own. If you can't spend the time with family or friends, take a positive approach and tell the children how much you are looking forward to a few days to relax, emphasising that you want them to be happy.That doesn't stop you from crying your eyes out once the door is closed -  then picking yourself up and actually taking advantage of a little peace and quiet!


5 Talk it through with the other parent


Talk arrangements for Christmas through with your ex-partner when the children are not present, as heated discussions in front of them can only be upsetting for everyone.


  • If you think you can, then sit down together with your diaries to record what's agreed, avoiding future disputes
  • Try to listen to one another’s ideas and opinions before responding
  • If something is said by the other parent that stirs up strong feelings try not to act on your immediate reaction
  • If necessary, ask for a break in the discussion and give yourself time to think things over
  • Instead of springing an issue or discussion on the other parent, it may be more helpful to let them know beforehand that you would like to do by a short phone message, text or email
  • If contact is made by phone or in person, before launching into a discussion, ask if now is a good time to talk. If not, arrange a mutually convenient time
  • Try to find a way to meet at least some of everyone’s need


6 Involve the extended family and friends


Family and friends can provide your children with compassion and coping strategies. This will help them not only through Christmas time but also long after the holidays pass


  • Present the extended family and friends with your decisions because they may need to be brought on board so that they understand what is going on and what you need from them
  • Insist that no-one tries to undermine the arrangements that you have decided to put in place, but be open to talking to people after the event as to what has worked and what has not, in order to be able to make things easier next time


7 Share the cost of big presents



  • Money is often tight when you separate


  • Some parents make a joint effort to plan their children's gifts rather than each getting separate ones so your children won't be overindulged or let down
  • 8 Look after yourself
  • Plan some 'away dates' at friends and family to get yourself out of the house, and the routine. These might become new traditions themselves, like visiting your best friend on Christmas Eve when you used to spend it at home, or spending time with another single parent who may be alone at that particular time during Xmas.


9 Time with children is more important than money spent on them


Christmas for Children isn’t about buying them lots of stuff!


  • Don’t  try to make up for your feelings of sadness by overwhelming children with expensive gifts
  • Some people encourage their children to make a special gift or card for the other parent – not only can it help the children feel happy and secure doing this but you're demonstrating goodwill and a generous spirit as a role model for them. 
  • Find inexpensive ways to enjoy the holidays. Enjoy simple pleasures, such as hot chocolate after a snowball fight or watching classic Christmas movies together. 

10 Create new traditions


  • Traditions are terribly important to give a sense of 'family'. These can disappear with a break-up.  Create some new holiday traditions that your kids can look forward to doing with you
  • Encourage the other parent to create his / her own different traditions as well. 
  • A different way is not always a worse way!



If all of the above tips still do not solve the problem and you need help to take some of the stress out of Christmas 2017, contact us now on 01223 576308 for more information about mediation and the other support services that we can offer. 




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