So whilst many people are making lists (and checking them twice), locking in Christmas party dates, buying a new ham bag, ordering your ugly Christmas rashie (a definite on my to do list) and looking for that perfect advent calendar, many people also have the worry of what are we doing with the kids, hanging over their heads at this time of year.
This time of year can cause much stress and anxiety in separated families. Not just for the adults, who are trying to ensure that everyone receives their part of the cake, but for the children. In newly separated families, this might be the first time that the children have to contemplate spending time on Christmas Day without both parents. If this is the case parents will also have to grapple with the idea that they will not spend all day with their children, on what can be their most exciting day of the year.
Whilst this places a large amount of pressure on everyone involved, here are some tips to survive the crazy season while also protecting your children from any potential madness.
- Plan early. Don’t wait until the week before Christmas to raise this. Have discussions early so that both the parents and the children know what lies ahead. Hopefully some sensible discussions may lead to an agreement being reached about this day. However if this is unsuccessful, then you may even need to engage a mediation service or obtain legal advice to assist in helping you sort it out. It is worth thinking about as early as June (yes before the Christmas music even starts in Myer!).
- Consider the need to travel on Christmas Day. Many people immediately think that the best and perhaps fairest way to manage Christmas Day is to split it down the middle, ie changeover at midday at a halfway point. Whilst at the outset this may appear to be in the best interests of the children, consider carefully whether this in fact is in your situation. Consider things such as what does your family normally do for Christmas? Do you travel to visit extended family? Are the children used to going from one house to another for Christmas Day (ie between grandparents) or have they traditionally remained at one house for the duration of the day? How do the children cope with change? All of these factors will impact on what the best arrangements are for your children for a post-separation Christmas.
- Consider what the relationship is like between yourself and your partner and each of your respective families, particularly if you are considering a Christmas Day changeover. Many children count down the days to Christmas and if changeovers are not always completely amicable consider whether it is worth the risk of potentially exposing your children to this on their favourite day.
- Look at other options for Christmas Day – whilst what I will refer to as the Christmas Day swinger option (ie changeover halfway through Christmas Day) is often the preferred method particularly when the children are young, sometimes it may be better to alternate the Christmas period from year to year. The children therefore can spend a relaxed, enjoyable Christmas period (whether that be two days, three days, or longer) with one parent and know that the following year they will do the same with their other parent. Whilst it may be hard for the parent who does not see the child on Christmas Day in that particular year, why not use the opportunity to create a second Christmas Day celebration on another day. After all what more could a child want than two Christmases?
- And lastly…communicate with your kids. Once an agreement has been reached, tell them the details of this. This eliminates any stress for them, particularly if they are thinkers or planners.
This issue is close to my heart, professionally as well as personally. As a child, I generally fell into the category of a “Christmas Day swinger.” My brother and I would generally spend the first half of the day with one parent, and then endure normally at least an hour or so in the car travelling and an awkward changeover, to then spend the second half of the day with the other parent. All the while hoping that when Mum and Dad saw each other for those very brief handover moments, that they may wish the other a Merry Christmas or spread the festive spirit in some way, to reassure me that those I loved so dearly still had respect for each other.
For many years Christmas caused a lot of stress for me. I didn’t always know where I was going, for how long, or how my parents would respond to each other on this day. Therefore I urge all parents to consider the above when having discussions and making decisions about what I think is the most wonderful time of the year.