Christmas can be a real problem for the separated / divorced. Family Lawyer Lesley Gordon gives advice on what children need for a Happy Family Christmas.
Up and down the country children are excitedly writing lists of (1) what they want for Christmas, (2) what they really want for Christmas, and (3) what they really really want for Christmas because everybody else is going to get one. Nowhere will any child be saying that what they want is for their parents to be fighting, either in court or otherwise, about where the child should be over the festive season or the details of the Christmas arrangements.
Christmas ought to be one of the happiest days of the year and yet unfortunately, because parents can become preoccupied with what is viewed as their fair share, there is a danger that they lose sight of what the children need, leaving the run up to Christmas stressful and unhappy for all concerned.
…parents can become preoccupied with what is viewed as their fair share and there is a danger that they lose sight of what the children need…
Some parents assume they should “share” Christmas Day. That allows them to feel that they have been reasonable to one another, but it often puts the child in the middle of a tense handover on a day which should be free of all dispute. Some parents even do a double handover that day because the non-resident parent is “entitled” to have the children for a couple of hours that day, then hand back. More disruption and potential for friction and anxiety.
Here are some ideas for making Christmas a better experience:
- Most kids will be more than happy to have two Christmas celebrations (and sets of presents!), one in each of the parent’s homes.
- Don’t compete with one another on who is going to give the best gift or holiday.
- Take turns buying the kids the special gift they really want or even consider giving joint gifts.
- Help the kids feel good about spending special time at the other’s house.
- Treat the other parent with respect however you may feel about them! Send your kids with a present for the other parent and don’t ignore the fact they have a step parent. Even if this favour isn’t returned you will be the better person and your kids will be proud of you.
- Don’t make the kids chose between you over the holidays. They won’t want to hurt your feelings and it puts them in an impossible situation.
The courts in November and December see some extremely sad cases where pairs of loving parents cannot appreciate these points and have to hire lawyers in order to get a decision from a Sheriff who has never met the parents nor the children and never will. However, the great news is that an increasing proportion of families are adopting alternative co-parenting strategies such as mediation or collaboration. This allows them to agree a festive plan with the kids at the centre and completely avoid the need to ever visit the Christmas Court.