Survival Guide for separated parents at Christmas and New Year
After relationship breakdown, many of our clients worry how best to manage the huge expectations and added pressure that Christmas brings. The reminders that it is the time for cheer, and the time of year to spend time with family and loved ones are inescapable, but the reality of a new co-parenting arrangement is that it can often be the season for stress, resentment and disappointment.
New family arrangements are always difficult, but they do not have to be impossible to manage. Managing Christmas after relationship breakdown is no easy feat, but with careful planning, compromise from all parties and most importantly putting the children first, it is possible to come out in the New Year feeling positive and to have made some good memories.
Organising a co-parenting schedule.
Christmas is chaotic, contact and communication can prove sticking points, and this can make pre-planning for Christmas complicated. When relationships break down feelings are often raw, and it can be a daunting to accept that family routines, which have often been established over a number of years are going to have to change. Our advice here at Maguire Family law is that in the absence of an order or arrangements, which are often yet to be put in place due to time frames, to consider mediation and/or amicable correspondence through solicitors.
The children of the family should always come first. Putting the kids at the very centre of all the plans you make, is a very good start to trying to make Christmas a success. A Christmas that does not duplicate other family Christmases’ spent as the traditional family unit can still be enjoyable. Positive talk around the kids is also a very helpful habit to get into, emphasising the positives, two Christmas Days, two sets of presents, as many Yorkshire puddings as you they can eat!
Practically arranging quality time for both parents is often challenging, but one golden rule is to avoid having discussions and making plans in front of the kids, if you think these discussions could get heated. Involve the kid’s if you think this is age appropriate, but maybe not in initial discussions, thus avoiding them seeing any conflict.
Preparation is key
As the saying goes, by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail! Sit down, as early as possible, get the calendar out and look at how you are going to share the Christmas break. Sorting this out early gives you the time to discuss plans and compromise to create arrangements that work for you all.
There are lots of different arrangements that can be agreed upon. Some clients we work with split Christmas with one parent sharing Christmas with the kids one year and the other parent getting to spend time with the children the following year. It is a personal choice based on what works for your family, but also the age of the children, location and how amicable you are.
You will be surprised at how flexible and adaptable children can be, and often kids will buy into the concept of having two Christmas days. Whatever the arrangement, make sure that things are arranged in plenty of time, so the logistics can be worked out, and everyone knows exactly what is going on.
Try not to deviate from the plan
It is important that, whichever arrangement you come to, you stick to the plan. Last-minute changes can cause feelings of disruption and uncertainty for children. Flexibility is an essential part of positive child arrangements. But it is important to maintain consistency and provide stability, clear communication and being reliable are strong foundations on which to build for the future.
Enjoy the time you have together
Clear plans can help to reduce time pressures and enable you all to enjoy quality time together. Making clear plans that everyone can buy into will also help reassure the children that the new co-parenting post relationship period is workable.
It’s often a good idea to plan who is getting what for the children as far as presents are concerned. Telling the children that Father Christmas is getting a bike that then gets gifted by Dad can result in needless energy being wasted on explanations. Taking a little time to establish an agreeable plan can simply make things run smoothly.
Christmas is not a point scoring exercise, and part of enjoying ongoing good relations is not allowing things to descend into a competition about who buys the children the biggest shiniest, sparkly toy. Reduce the tension by talking and agreeing who gets the big things, maybe the bigger presents can come from Gran or Grandad or even Santa!
There is no rule book
We all want to have a fantastic Christmas, but one thing we can all do with remembering is that the perfect Christmas doesn’t exist. We don’t live in a Hollywood film, trying to have a perfect Christmas is doomed whatever your relationship status. This year if your family dynamic has recently changed, it will be different, but embrace this and make new traditions of your own. There is no rule book, so enjoy the new experience. Here at Maguire Family Law we have our fingers crossed that by communicating clearly and compromising Christmas will be a happy time. If not, there is always next year!