Christmas and the lead up to it should be an exciting and memorable time for children and rewarding for their parents. Christmas is a busy and sometimes stressful period, getting everything prepared for the big day. For parents who have separated, this stress is magnified significantly as they try to organise themselves, their own families and agreeing what’s best for the children.
Like many conversations that might be difficult, the tendency is to ‘put it off’ or wait for the other person to take the initiative. The best way to ensure a happy Christmas is to start this conversation early – which is why we have written this article now.
Here are some of our tips to help you approach these conversations and arrangements.
The plans that you reach between you will most likely be satisfactory when there has been understanding of both sides’ priorities and some compromise on either side.
The likelihood is that both of you will share the view that you want the children to have a great Christmas. So, make the conversation about them, what will be best for them in terms of the arrangements you are considering? If your children are older, teenagers for example, you can involve them in the discussions to help reach a schedule that everyone can buy in to.
Discussions need to be broader than just the Christmas period itself. If your children are taking part in school nativities/performances, agree the dates for attending. These take place in mid-December, so it’s important to be thinking ahead now.
When you have decided what the arrangements are, let the children know. Make it clear that the plans have been made and agreed between Mum and Dad together, with their views counting as well. The decisions have been made in a way to give everyone, but most importantly them the best possible Christmas time.
A big choice is whether children will see both parents on Christmas Day or spend Christmas Day with one and Boxing Day with the other. Distance, logistics and preference will play a part in reaching the right decision. Factor into your thoughts if you are reliant on public transport. You may need to buy tickets ahead of time and know about engineering works. Discuss what a ‘Plan B’ might look like in the event of bad weather or even a white Christmas!
For the parent not seeing their children on Christmas Day, arrange time for a Skype/Facetime or telephone call. Consider when during the day the children will be on a high e.g. in the morning or during present opening to schedule the call.
Once the arrangements are finalised, share them with all the people that you will be spending Christmas with. That way, everyone knows what is happening and when, and reduces the chances of conflict arising from unexpected surprises.
Another reason for starting the conversation early is in the event of being unable to reach a satisfactory outcome between the two of you. A lawyer or mediator as a third party can help break through any impasse.
If the arrangements that you have made with best intentions turn out not to be as good as you had hoped, then be wise enough to admit it and make a note to try something different next year. You should be able to improve the experience year-on-year and that’s positive for everyone.
Finally, by taking note of some of the points raised above, another very important person should be able to enjoy their Christmas too. You!
If you are struggling to reach agreement as to contact time and arrangements for having your children at Christmas, speak to a member of the Family law team at Downs Solicitors to see how we can help.