Christmas comes loaded with emotion. The kids love the thought of Santa and gifts, unwrapping presents, food and staying up late. The parents love the kids loving Santa and gifts, unwrapping presents, and catching up with friends and family and food and drink and too much of all of those, and even when Aunty Maria squeezes them so hard they nearly explode. Because that’s what happens at Christmas. But the first Christmas after a separation, everything is suddenly different. Navigating Christmas after a separation can be fraught with difficulties.
Begin discussions early
Begin the discussions about Christmas arrangements early with the other parent. There are bound to be some areas that are going to take some creative problem solving, especially where both parents have attachments to certain parts of the Christmas Day routine.
Be prepared to negotiate. Christmas celebrations only last for a short time and there’s a lot to be packed in. Negotiations need to be held about not only who is taking the kids where and for how long, but also about how the arrangements are going to work in the future. This may include dividing up the Christmas holidays so that the children get to spend time with both parents as well as sharing special days like Christmas Day. All these things need to be discussed.
There’s no denying that one of the toughest things about a separation is not having the children for the whole Christmas period. Under the Family Law Act 1975, the paramount consideration in parenting matters is the best interests of the child. While the changes to Christmas celebrations may be difficult for the children, parents fighting is even more so, which is why it is so important to come to an amicable arrangement.
If the arrangements for Christmas after a separation become the cause of conflict, take advantage of a mediation service. An independent third party can assist in arriving at an arrangement that the parties agree on and which is in the best interests of the children.
Look at the children’s perspective
Think about how the children will see the new Christmas arrangements and how things will feel to them. Thinking about how Christmas feels from their perspective can be helpful in reaching an agreement on all aspects of Christmas after a separation.
For many, what is great about Christmas is its routine and sameness. Something to be counted on. With a separation, that will change.
Build new routines and rituals
Objectively, Christmas has changed before. Once upon a time parents were children, who went where their parents went. They have the memories of what their childhood Christmas was for better or worse. Then they grew older, found partners and what they did at Christmas changed. There were new people and new routines.
After children were born, the routines changed again. There may have been moves to new states, new countries, new houses, which also meant adjustments to the Christmas routine. Separation means more change. New routines, new traditions.
Keeping some things the same gives a sense of stability and continuity. But children adapt remarkably well given the right environment and when parents have a positive attitude. So start to build new traditions, taking into account that until the children are late teens, you will likely be sharing them over the Christmas period. Start developing routines that work for everyone and be positive about the changes.
Write it down
Write down the arrangements and make sure both parties have a copy. Confusion can occur in parenting arrangements when details are not written down. Having a written record of the agreement can also reduce the chance that one parent forgets a pick up or drop off time, or something they are responsible for. These mistakes can cause unnecessary friction, distress and conflict.
A mediation service can help you to draft a Parenting Plan to document what both parents are intending, not only for the Christmas period, but for other holiday periods as well.
Coping with Christmas after a separation requires a willingness to keep in mind the best interests of the children. It also requires a recognition that no one is going to be totally happy with the arrangements as everyone will feel like they have lost something. However, Christmas after a separation also provides the opportunity to establish new routines that will help the children to accept the changes that have occurred in their family.
If you require legal advice or representation in relation to a family law matter or in any other legal matter please contact Go To Court Lawyers.
By Kerry Schroeder, Solicitor