Making Christmas Easier for Separated Families
Christmas is a special time of year when families and friends come together, showing love, swapping presents, remembering the good times, sharing meals, opening their homes and enjoying each other’s company.
For some separated families however, Christmas can be a difficult time of year, bringing with it feelings of sadness, loneliness, disappointment and emotion fuelled arguments. Unfortunately it is usually the children who are in the middle of these emotions.
A Happier and Less Stressful Christmas
As a local law firm with a large family law practice, we see all too often the effect that tension within separated families can have on children. We hope the below tips help your family have a more enjoyable Christmas this year.
The most important thing is to manage expectations of both parents and children. Planning and communicating in advance things like, where the children will be, who they will be spending time with, when they are being picked up/dropped off etc will help ensure that Christmas day runs more smoothly
If differences of opinion arise, acknowledge the other parent by saying something like 'how can we work together to make this work?'. Work towards finding a middle ground that you can all agree upon.
Your Child’s Family Matters
Remember that Christmas is about family and the truth is that your child’s family includes both your family and the other parent’s family. When managed well, children of separated parents can experience a lot of love and attention at Christmas time, but done poorly they can experience a lot of heartache (and that's not what you want for them).
Keep It In Perspective
Yes, Christmas Day is a special day but it is after all, just one day. If your children are not with you this Christmas, hold your own special Christmas day with them on another day. What child would not love more than one Christmas day!
Understanding How Your Child Feels
Children of separated parents can feel a great deal of tension at Christmas.
- They may feel responsible for making both parents happy;
- The number one thing on your children's wish list is to have their family together and happy;
- Feeling secure is important to them. They need to know that both their parents are ok;
- They may feel it is their fault that their parents broke up, so arguing around them will make them feel even more guilty and sad;
- They are often expected to move from one home to another and perhaps to fit in to a new blended family. For some children this may be a huge deal;
- They may conform just to keep others happy;
- They usually don’t know how to express the emotions they are feeling. They may seem ok on the surface but there may be a storm of unexpressed emotions below;
- They may act out with difficult behaviour simply because they don’t know how to express their emotions resourcefully;
- They will react to and model your emotions. If you are feeling negative emotion and your children are misbehaving, try relaxing yourself and notice the difference it makes to your children;
- With adults making all the choices and deisions for them, they may feel out of control and uncertain.
Respecting the other parent
You may have every right to be upset and disappointed in the other parent but it is important not to criticise them when talking to your children. The truth is, your children love their other parent as well (young children love unconditionally) and the relationship that they have with that parent is important and needs protecting. When you openly criticise their other parent, you create confusion for your child. They probably want to please you by agreeing with you but at the same time they still love their other parent and hearing or saying negative things about them makes them uncomfortable.
- Remove tension and uncertainty for the children by agreeing in advance with the other parent around how Christmas will work this year;
- Discuss the plans for Christmas, openly with your children so they also know what to expect;
- Ask your children what they want to do. Give them some input and some control over the process wherever possible.
- Listen to what your children have to say and let them know you value their input;
- If necessary, put their desires ahead of your own;
- Avoid putting your children at the centre of any conflict;
- If you can’t meet your children’s wishes, take the time to sit down with them and explain why. Help them to think of a few good things about the current plan.
When Things Don’t Go To Plan
You are only responsible for what you do as a parent. You cannot be responsible for how the other parent behaves. It is possible, despite all your effort, that difficulties may still arise if the other parent does not co-operate in the process.
If you think this is a possiblitiy, it is again a good idea to prepare in advance how you will choose to respond and how you will handle it.
A Counsellor offers helpful advice on how to cope with difficult relationships and situations. They can also help by suggesting ways to communicate and reach agreement around matters relating to your children. They can teach you how to best communicate with your children and how to best protect them during times of tension between you and the other parent.
A lawyer can explain what the law says regarding various situations with relationships and children and give you advice about the options that are available to you.
Communication is the key!. Start communicating well ahead of time, keeping your children’s happiness as your priority and you will have made a great start to a happier and less stressful Christmas.
Look After Yourself Too
Whilst your children are your highest priority, it is also important to take care of yourself too. It would be helpful to create plans in advance for your own Christmas Day.
What will you do when the children are with you? What will you do when the children are not with you?
Think about what you enjoy. Will you surround yourself with family or friends? Will you go for a walk? Will you take up a new hobby? (perhaps a new canvas and some paints for Christmas), will you finally have some peace to read that book or watch a movie.
Whatever you do, decide to make some time for yourself and give yourself something to look forward too as well. Be your own best friend this Christmas.
And, if you do feel sad, know that it is completely normal. Allow yourself to feel any emotions and allow them to pass through so you can make room for more positive feelings. You deserve it.