Christmas can be a very stressful time for separated and separating families. Children want happy memories of their childhood Christmases, and parents want to help create those memories, but how can it be done? Here at Family Matters, we have helped many couples to come up with workable agreements that can help reduce the Christmas stresses of separation, finances and children issues. Mediation is an excellent route to working out your family arrangements at times such as this. Here, we have adapted the famous song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, to give you twelve tips on what you, as parents, can do to help make it a special time for your children.
Day 1 – Timing.
If you are about to separate, try not to do it on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Boxing Day as that day will forever be associated with your break-up, by you and your children, and it will most likely take a long time before anyone can start enjoying the festive season, untainted, again.
Day 2 – Planning.
Ensure that arrangements for children during the Christmas period are sorted as soon as possible. Having arrangements in place early will ease everyone’s stress, particularly for children who don’t like the uncertainty of not knowing where they will be on important days. It will help both parents feel more in control of what is likely to be a difficult time.
Day 3 – Organisation.
Come to mediation early. Don’t wait until December, when everyone is busy, and you and your family are becoming increasingly stressed. In mediation, you can openly discuss your own issues with an independent mediator who has lots of experience of dealing with family situations such as yours, at important times such as Christmas, and can help you find a solution that will work best for your personal circumstances – always with the welfare of your children at the forefront of any arrangements.
Day 4 – Think fairness.
Try to be as fair as possible, remembering that your children still see you both as their parents, and expect you to behave as such, even though you are separated or separating. Try to share the Christmas period with your children equally and try not to plan to ‘out-do’ your ex by planning something spectacular for the children if you know that they can’t – unless of course you have agreed to do this. Make the children a priority whilst accommodating a parent’s work schedule at the same time. Some parents simply can’t take time off on the celebratory days, such as those who work in the emergency and health services.
Day 5 –
Think about your children’s ages. What will be fun for them? What is fun and fair for the parents might not be fun for the child. Sitting in a car for an hour or two on Christmas Day, just so that both of you can see them, probably isn’t much fun for your children. If your children can look forward to sharing time in different ways with each parent, it will be something for them to get excited about, rather than dread!
Day 6 – Communication.
It’s vital to communicate properly with each other if you want to ensure a Christmas with as little stress as possible and you want your children enjoy their time. Talk to each other sensibly to try to come to some agreement on appropriate arrangements. If you can’t do this, a trained mediator can help. Tell your children what you have planned so they are not anxious about what is going to happen and when.
As its unlikely that you will all be together for the whole of the Christmas period, arranging communication between yourself and your children at Christmas is important too. For example, arrange Skype or Facetime sessions with the absent parent, or send a prerecorded message if that is not possible. Children adapt well to change, as long as it is properly handled. Make sure they know that Christmas hasn’t ended, just because their parents are no longer together – it’s changed.
Day 7 – Finances.
Try to come to an agreement about how Christmas costs will be covered. Who will pay for what – including child care costs? Who will buy what? Don’t try to compete, and that includes buying gifts – that isn’t what your children want. Make a list of what you know your children would like and agree who is buying which presents. It saves money, as you will not both be buying the same things – and saves the disappointment of children opening the same gifts from both of you.
Day 8 – Negotiate and compromise.
Be ready to do both if you can’t agree exactly what each
Day 9 – Work together.
Spend Christmas day together with your ex-partner and your children if you can or invite your ex round for the breakfast or the main meal. It will help your children to feel secure, especially the younger ones. If you are on good enough terms, and you know your children will be comfortable with it, you could have Christmas dinner with your children, your ex, and both new partners (and any other children that have become part of the family).
Day 10 –
Agree the rules of behaviour.
If you are spending Christmas together, avoid alcohol or drugs if you are feeling down as both will create arguments. Try to
Day 11 – Traditions.
Children thrive on traditions. Do try to allow your children to continue with traditions, such as a family day with grandparents and
However, new traditions, created by yourselves, can mean as much as longstanding family traditions. Have two Christmases, for example. Share the whole Christmas holiday rather than just the traditional three days of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Consider splitting the two-week holiday into two and having one Christmas at the beginning and one at the end. Try the Spanish and Portuguese tradition of celebrating Christmas on a day other than 25th December, whereby you give presents and have your main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve. Alternate Christmases can work, especially if you live far apart, such as in different countries. These are all good ways of sharing Christmas with your children, and if any were to become a tradition for your family, it could be one that works well for years to come.
Day 12 – Plan B.
Have more than one solution. Plan B is always a good idea – just in case you find it impossible to stick to plan A!
We hope that some of these suggestions might help you toward a Christmas that is not full of uncertainty, disappointment and unhappiness for you and your children. You don’t need to wait until 12 days before Christmas to start planning it – start now! Contact us to arrange a meeting with a trained, independent mediator. Every family is different, so we won’t try to give you a one size fits all solution. We will help you to find the best solution for your own circumstances. When you contact us, tell us that you want to make arrangements for Christmas and we will make sure we