This year perhaps more than any, the festive period will take on a huge significance as the UK and devolved Governments look to relax COVID restrictions to provide us all with some much needed respite from what has, for many, been a terrible year.
Christmas can be a stressful time for many families anyway, particularly those that have been or are experiencing separation and divorce. What should be a fun-filled time of laughter and joy, shared with family and friends can often be tainted by disagreements about contact arrangements and other disputes. And, if it is the first Christmas after separation and you may still just be working out the general arrangements.
The following tips will help to ensure the festive period runs as smoothly as possible:
Do what works for your family: There is no set arrangement that works well for every family so you should make sure that whatever plans are made suit your family. Some families like to share Christmas Day itself with one parent spending time with the children in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Others prefer to alternate Christmases so that the children spend the full day (or even from Christmas eve through to Boxing Day) in one place.
Keep an open dialogue: Ideally it is preferable for the children if the parents consciously try to communicate in a calm and constructive manner in all circumstances, and not just when dealing with the Christmas arrangements. This can be difficult, especially in circumstances where the separation may be recent and feelings may be running high. If alternate year arrangements have been agreed, a quick call to their other parent or extended family can help to build a positive relationship between the parties and shows the children that they are supported to have that relationship and that their parents can work together. The parties may also want to consider how they are able to best communicate with one another – this may be in person, on the telephone, by email, text message or even through an app. Whichever method is most suitable, it should be used to keep an open dialogue to focus on arrangements.
Children come first: They are entitled to have a meaningful relationship with both parents (subject to there being no issues of safeguarding) and enjoy quality time over the festive period with both parents. So, try to ensure that their wishes and feelings are taken in to account in any plans that you make. Older children in particular will have a view on what they want to do over the Christmas holidays and whilst it is sometimes just not possible for the arrangements to reflect exactly what they want, it is important to listen to their views. It may be that you have split Christmas Day down the middle every year whilst your children have been growing up but now that they are older, their preference is to stay with one parent on Christmas Day and see the other parent on Boxing Day for example. Working together to try to reach a resolution and prioritising the children’s wishes and needs is likely to be key in helping the festive period run smoothly.
Plan ahead: The run up to the Christmas period can often be stressful and this year we have the added complication of living with a pandemic to deal with too. So, the sooner you can begin to discuss and agree your plans with your former partner, the better so that you have time to iron out any concerns or disagreements. As soon as the arrangements are agreed let your children know what the plan is and stick to it unless there is an emergency. The children will appreciate the stability of knowing where they will be and when and should feel secure in those arrangements. Whilst they may not have mentioned it, they will definitely be thinking about it, especially if this is the first year that they have moved between their parents for Christmas.
Don't forget extended family: Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all play an important part in the festivities and children may wish to spend time with their extended family over the Christmas period – although this year that may be more challenging given the pandemic. However, it is also important to remember that it is never going to be possible for children to spend time with every member of their family on Christmas Day itself. Try to ensure that enough time is built into their schedule in which they have the opportunity to spend good quality time with their extended family on both sides over the Christmas period.
Agree the presents: If at all possible, try to speak about and agree gifts for the children beforehand and try to work together to make the day more enjoyable for all.
After what has been a turbulent year for most, the main thing for everyone to try to remember is that Christmas is an exciting time for children and in order to truly relax and enjoy the festivities, they will want to know that the adults in their lives are communicating well and working together constructively to prioritise the children’s wellbeing.
If communication is difficult between you and you’re having trouble reaching agreement with your ex-partner about the arrangements for your children you may find it helpful to arrange some time with one of Consensus Collaboration Scotland’s specially trained and experienced Family Consultants who can support you both to communicate in a more constructive way.
Collaborative Practice is a non-confrontation approach to agreeing not only the legal and financial arrangements but also those practical ones particularly when it comes to looking after the children. It’s less adversarial with no court battle and is more focussed on positive solutions. Find out if the Collaborative approach could work for you here.
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