Are you a separated parent this Christmas?

Are you a separated parent this Christmas? Perhaps this is your first Christmas as a separated parent, and you’re wondering how you are going to manage financially and emotionally. It could be that you’ve been separated for a few years and still, thoughts of making arrangements for the children leave you in a cold sweat. Christmas is such an emotive time. Here are a few tips to get you through the festive period this year with grace, dignity and a feeling of calm!

1. Plan your Christmas

It may sound obvious, but planning your Christmas can make a world of difference to you and your children. If financially you are in a different place this year, you need to manage your children’s expectations, particularly if they are young and still believe in Father Christmas. The end of your relationship doesn’t have to mean the end of their belief in the Big Man. It’s about how you frame it with your children.

Is there one item your child longs for more than anything that is within budget? Does your child really likes opening lots of smaller parcels? It’s ok to buy them some things they need as well as those they want – who hasn’t had pyjamas and pants for Christmas?

If possible, discuss with the other parent the gifts you will buy for your children. Will you continue to give joint gifts (many parents do), or separate ones? Will your children see the other parent, and if so, when? Having these discussions in advance will help the whole family. It’s important to remain as calm and as relaxed as you can. Consider family mediation if you feel that talking with an impartial third person will be helpful.

2. Remember that your children will have a different Christmas too

If this is the first Christmas that your children will have been without both of you in the same house, it will be strange for them. They may be sad, angry or withdrawn. Acknowledge with your children that this year will be different, and if you can, make it different in a good way. All families have their traditions, routines and practices they follow each year. See this Christmas as an opportunity to create new ones. Make it fun! It doesn’t need to cost any money. If your children are old enough, get them involved and ask them to come up with ideas to make this Christmas different from previous ones. This can also work well for families facing their first Christmas after the death of a loved one.

3. Be a respectful parent

You may not be in a relationship anymore, but you are still a parent. Whatever your personal thoughts about the other parent, (unless there are safety issues), that person is the mother or father of your children. Your children love that person and need to know that it is ok to love them. Your children may feel anxious and worried about their absent parent. It’s important to acknowledge that with your children and reassure them that the other parent is still there and loves them. Even if Christmas brings to the surface feels of resentment and of being let down by the other person, avoid sharing these feelings with your children. It causes stress and encourages your children to have divided loyalties which are unhealthy.

4. Give the gift of time

Probably the greatest gift you can give your children this Christmas is time. Time with you, and time with their other parent and extended family. Grandparents may also be missing from your children’s lives this Christmas. How you can make this work depends on your circumstances. It might be you live close by and the children can spend some part of Christmas Day with the other parent. It maybe that you and the other parent are able to be in the house together for part of the time enjoying watching the children opening gifts or playing games.

That might be too soon.

Only you know what you can handle. However, it is important that in some way, your children are able to connect with their other parent and extended family. If distance is an issue, this could be through Skype or Facetime. Remember that if you have your children completely to yourself this year, unless you and your former partner agree otherwise, it is likely the children will be with that person next year. How would you feel not having any contact with your children? More importantly, how will you children feel not having contact with you?

Exactly.

That’s how your children will feel this year if you don’t facilitate, or make yourself available for contact. You have the opportunity to show your children that they have two parents that love them dearly even though they live apart. Take that opportunity if at all possible…. Your children will thank you for it.

If talking through these issues is tricky, mediation can help. Mediation is about helping you share your thoughts, asking questions and agreeing to a way forward in a neutral environment. Deciding how to deal with Christmas as a separated parent isn’t easy and that’s why mediators are available to support you in making these arrangements for you and your family.

5. Be kind to yourself

Whether you have the children on your own, or you’ll be without them for the first time this Christmas morning, remember that it is ok to feel a whole range of emotions from sadness to anger, frustration and resentment or happiness and joy depending on your circumstances. It’s ok to have fun with your children if you have them, and it’s ok to feel upset if you haven’t.

Remember. Keep perspective. Christmas comes but once a year…

Christmas is one of the major events in the year for children and it is only a few days. Do what you need to do for you to help you manage those days. See friends, relax and get plenty of sleep. Avoid drinking too much alcohol as this is a depressant and is unlikely to support you in the longer term.

Remember that this Christmas may not be easy, but the way in which you handle it will set expectations for future years.

6. What can you do if you can’t reach agreements with the other parent?

Consider making a Parenting Plan, particularly if you find that you are constantly negotiating and renegotiating boundaries or arrangements for your children. A Parenting Plan can give you and your children the clarity you all need to be able to move forward without the need for constant renegotiation. A Parenting Plan isn’t just for Christmas – it can support you for years. As the Parenting Plan is not a legal document, it allows the two of you flexibility and the ability to develop it as the needs of the family change over time. 

If you and the other parent can’t agree, you may be faced with no alternative but to issue an application for a Child Arrangements Order. This starts with the consideration of mediation. You must see a mediator prior to making an application to court. This all takes time.You can expect to wait up to 6 weeks for court hearing to deal with your case. It’s therefore important that you start talking about Christmas right now. Our experienced Family Lawyers can help.

Crombie Wilkinson are experienced Family Lawyers and Mediators with offices in York, Selby and Malton. Come and discuss your case with Juliette Kilkenny or Kim Denton from our team of family experts. A one hour consultation is just £100 inclusive of VAT. Call us on 01904 624185 today.