Posted by Kit O'Brien, Senior Associate
First Christmas post-separation? Our recipe for a peaceful family life
Christmas is pitched as a time for families but what if you have recently separated or divorced? Sadly, it can become a difficult time if you’re a separated or divorced parent, with all the usual stresses of Christmas amplified and the added worry of keeping the children happy. Here are our Family team’s top ten tips to help you survive the festive period.
1. Your children really do want time with each of you
Try and put the acrimony on hold and make sure that arrangements are made so your children’s time over the Christmas and New Year period is divided between you. Perhaps a move mid-way through Christmas Day or Christmas Day with one parent and New Year celebrations with the other. If you’re doing it that way consider alternating so that you have Christmas one year and New Year the next.
2. It’s good to talk
If your children are with you on Christmas Day make it easy for them to speak to their other parent or help them set up Skype or Facetime. It may be hard for you but it will mean a great deal to them.
3. Make arrangements early on and be ready to compromise
Just before the end of the Christmas term is a very bad time indeed to start thinking about how you’re going to work out Christmas arrangements. The earlier you think about it, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to come to an agreement that each of you can live with. And if your children spend most of their time with you, don’t work on the basis that you can simply dictate what’s going to happen over the Christmas period. Be ready to compromise.
4. Don’t forget the wider family
You may no longer be on good terms with your ex’s family but that doesn’t mean that your children shouldn’t have a good relationship with them. Be as considerate as you can about making arrangements so that your children can see grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins too. That may well mean that you factor in travelling time if families live some way away.
5. It’s not a competition
Try and find a way of communicating in advance so that you agree who is going to buy what for the children. If you don’t and they get two of the thing they most wanted you’ve then paved the way for an argument about which toy gets returned after Boxing Day. Don’t try and be the one who gives the greatest number or value of presents. Again, that’s likely only to lead to a dispute particularly if money is tight.
6. Don’t be afraid of the new
Inevitably, if you’ve established Christmas traditions as a family it will be hard if you can’t maintain them. Start your own new traditions. Involve your children in agreeing what you’re going to do over the holiday. Certainly Christmas will be different but change can be a positive thing for all of you.
7. Respect the old
Building a new framework for Christmas and embracing change is great but avoid being negative about what you used to do. It won’t help communication between you if your children start talking about how they’re doing something new because the way you always did it before was stupid. It may have been but that’s not the point.
8. Be sensitive about new relationships
Be sensitive about introducing new partners to your children and consider your timing. If only one of you has a new partner, Christmas is probably about the worst time you could think of to introduce your partner to your children for the first time especially if your ex doesn’t know anything about it. If the children head off to see one parent and suddenly talk about the other’s new partner who they’ve just met and really like, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a recipe for disaster.
9. Maintain the boundaries
If you wouldn’t have let your children watch something when you were together, don’t let them watch it when you’re not. The same goes for allowing vast quantities of sweets and chocolate. Allowing them to bend the rules may make you cool in the short term but will inevitably lead to arguments when your ex finds out.
10. Don’t be a Grinch
Let’s be honest, Christmas often isn’t easy for families when they’re together. Your situation may leave you feeling pretty ‘Bah Humbug’ but being a Grinch won’t help your children and won’t resolve issues between you and your ex. Try to take the high road and create a positive environment.
We can’t wave a magic wand and make Christmas problem free but we hope you’ll find these tips useful when it comes to making your arrangements for your children – ideally of course you’ve made them some time ago. Either way, we hope that everything goes smoothly and we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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