“I share Christmas. So on Christmas Eve I am with my mum, then with my dad on Christmas Day. Then the other Christmas I go to my dad’s on Christmas Eve and then I spend Christmas Day with my mum. That is how we share it. And Grandma comes over” (Boy aged 8 years).
Christmas highlights to us all the emotional significance of “family”. We look to forge, renew or strengthen those ties that we value the most at this time of year. For the family of divorced parents, deciding where anyone will be and with whom over Christmas can be particularly difficult and challenging. The non residential or absent parent will often want more time with their children at Christmas than at other times of the year. The resident parent can want to maintain the old family traditions that retain the children with them. All too often, family solicitors and Divorce Courts are engaged at best to negotiate or mediate between parents and at worst to dictate to them where and when children will be, and with whom.
But does Christmas have to be a difficult time for a divorced family? Here are five suggests that may ease the tension
- Do plan early – Plan the arrangements for the Christmas holiday as early as possible. Stress about it only increases the closer the day looms. If agreement cannot be reached, involve a mediator or a collaboratively trained family law solicitor, who focus on helping separated and divorced parents to find solutions that work for them and their families. Resort only to the Divorce Court as a last resort.
- Do put your children first – The Christmas season is centred on children. So focus on them. Ask yourself what you can do to ensure the holidays are happy and productive for them. If old enough, talk to your children about the traditions they would like to continue and with whom – Finding a Christmas tree with dad or decorating the cake with mum.
- Do share time with children over the Christmas period – Christmas is a time when families can focus on what unites rather than what divides them. Unless parents live miles apart, there is no reason why children cannot see and be with both parents over the Christmas holiday. See what you can work out, remembering always to do what is in the best interest of your children
- Do let children remain in contact with both parents and their extended family – When it isn’t possible for one parent to see the children for whatever reason, do let them call that parent to say “Happy Christmas”. Grandparents, Uncles and Aunts etc are also an integral part of a child’s life and provide continuity and security in the face of the changed family structure.
- Do be flexible – “Madonna let’s Guy see his boys…on terms” was the newspaper headline. The singer was reported to have issued a list of demands that Guy Ritchie must meet when their children were with him. Everyone loses when that happens and it’s the children who feel it the most. How Christmas is organised by divorced parents can provide children with some hope that their parents can and will be able to work things out during and for the rest of the year.
Thoughts of Christmas and divorce many not immediately stir feelings of peace and joy but Christmas is a time when family connections can be prioritised and its divisions relegated. By focusing on planning ahead, being flexible and putting children first, divorced parents can help children and themselves enjoy Christmas and have happy memories of it together.