When couples who are going through a separation come to talk about how their children will spend their time for the first Christmas (or in fact any other special day or celebration) it can be a tough ask. It’s a special day and it’s likely you have always spent it with your children. So facing the thought of what to do can mean that one of you won’t see your children on this special day. This is tough and something lots of single parents find difficult to deal with. It can be made doubly hard listening to others planning their celebrations with families and friends.

Here are some helpful tips from Michelle Rumsey on how to manage the Christmas period:

  • Communication: Open and honest communication between co-parents is key. Start the conversation as soon as possible. If you haven’t had it already then you definitely need to start now. Creating space and time to explore different options. Think about how this change will impact both of you.
  • Children always being at the forefront of your mind: Each child is unique and has different needs depending on developmental age, relationship with extended family, friends locally, hobbies, parties. What is best for your child/ren? How can you create new happy memories? What can you both do to help your children be excited about Christmas rather than apprehensive about the changes?
  • Plan: Create a plan together in how you communicate best, face to face, email, telephone. Be specific about drop offs and pick ups and what will happen each day over the holidays. Christmas extends over 2 weeks for children.  Whilst it’s natural to see Christmas day as the main event you can do the same things as a family on any other day in the Christmas holidays and most children won’t object to having two days of celebration!
Christmas can be a challenging time for separated parents.
  • Be flexible: Children’s needs come first, at the last minute they may be invited to a party or they may want to see a grandparent or they may be unwell. It is important communication doesn’t stop after the plan has been agreed. Changes sometimes happen we can not plan for although it can help to think about what bumps in the road might crop up and talk about how you would deal with them.
  • Once agreed on a plan: Put this in writing, you are all clear on the arrangements, communication and expectations.
  • Keep the children informed: Depending on Childrens age and needs ask the children what they would like, let them express their preferences and hopes. Involved them, if appropriate, in the planning. Children often have creative ways of managing things and it can be empowering for them to know they’ve been involved in some of the decision making.
  • Alternate years: Many parents find it helpful to alternate Christmas arrangements each year. For example, one parent has the Children on Christmas day this year and the other parent has them the next year. This way, both parents get to celebrate with the children on special occasions. Some parents set things up so that the children are with one parent on Christmas Day, and the other on Boxing Day and it changes each year. What will work best for your family?
  • Stay positive: Remember that holiday arrangements can be challenging, but maintaining a positive approach and cooperation will create a better experience for everyone. It can always take time for new things to feel normal especially after a big change like a divorce or separation.
  • Be sensitive: The change and unknown of the first Christmas after separation can create different emotions, negative and positive. Be sensitive to everyone’s emotions and understand emotions are challenged and change. You and your co-parent might be experiencing different emotions but it help to treat the way you each feel as being valid.

If you find it difficult to reach an agreement on your own, consider Mediation to help support this discussion. Mediation can help facilitate discussions and reach a resolution that feels fair to everyone involved. Your children can also have their say in the mediation process so that you factor in their ideas. This is generally for children of 10 and older and only happens where both parents and the children want it to but it can be a useful way of ensuring everyone’s voices are heard in the arrangements that you make. The goal is to make the Christmas season as memorable for your children and yourselves as possible and that can sometimes require some creativity and to think outside the box about what will work for you.