Coping with Christmas – tips for separated families
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and for most of us, after a stressful 2020, it’s the season we’re looking forward to.
Should COVID restrictions allow, it’s a time to see family and friends, swap presents and stories and enjoy each other’s company.
However, 2020 has been a long and tiring year, and for many families, this might be the first time they’re facing time apart during the festive season, due to distance, COVID, or a family break up.
If you’ve separated or divorced this year, Christmas can be a time of sadness and disappointment. But who’s caught in the middle? Children.
So, what can separated and divorced families do to make Christmas a little easier on themselves and their children?
One of the most important things to realise, is that Christmas is a time for your children. And from a legal point of view, children’s living arrangements are ordered by the Court for your children’s benefit, not yours.
Many disagreements start because of parent’s expectations of what will happen at this time of year. You expect that children will spend Christmas with you. The other parent may expect the same.
Parents need to communicate with each other and plan ahead. That way, Christmas has a chance to be happier and far less stressful for everyone involved.
How children feel at Christmas
Understanding some simple facts about children can help.
- Children often experience a great deal of tension at Christmas.
- They often feel responsible for making both parents happy.
- The dream for most children is that their family will be together. Security is a real issue for them, it’s something they need.
- They often feel it is their fault their parents broke up.
- They try to come to terms with their parents not being together.
- Adults have a greater capacity to make choices. Children don’t.
- They are expected to move from one home to another to spend time with each parent. While this may be ok for short periods during the year, at Christmas the time spent with each parent can be longer. This can change the dynamics of the home and can cause problems, particularly with blended families.
- They conform to keep others happy and often don’t even know how to express their feelings about all that is going on. This can mean that on the surface, everything seems ok. In reality, children may be experiencing a storm of unexpressed emotion.
- They don’t have the understanding of life experiences that adults do. It is more difficult for them to make meaning of the situations they are in. Young children especially are unable to think things through in a rational way. They can only react to situations.
Regardless of what has happened between you, it is important not to criticise the other parent when talking to your children. You need to accept that your children love their other parent and the relationship they have with that parent must be protected. By criticising the other parent, you create tension for your children, because they may want to please you and agree with you. However, at the same time, they still love their other parent.
How to avoid conflict at Christmas
- Agree on what you will do ahead of time, so there is no tension.
- Discuss your ideas with your children.
- Ask your children what they want to do. Give them input and some control over the process (this may depend on how old they are, however all children should have the chance to say what they want to do).
- Listen closely to what they say.
- Put their desires ahead of yours.
- Avoid situations where your children are drawn into the centre of the conflict.
- If your children’s wishes can’t be met, take the time to sit down with them and explain why.
Ask for help
Despite your best efforts, it is possible that difficulties may still arise. You must take responsibility for what you do as a parent, however you cannot be responsible for how the other parent behaves.
You can do everything in your power, but they may still not co-operate. If you find yourself in this situation, always remember that help is available.
A counsellor can offer helpful advice on how to cope with difficult relationships and situations. They can also help by suggesting ways to communicate and reach agreement with your former partner in matters relating to your children.
A lawyer can also explain what the law says regarding various situations with relationships and children, and give you advice about the options available to you.
Remember, legal issues take time to resolve. If there are legal issues relating to your circumstances, give yourself plenty of time to discuss them with your lawyer and allow a number of weeks for the outcome to be finalised.
Communication is the key. Start communicating well ahead of time and keep your children’s happiness as your priority and you will have a good start to a happier Christmas.
If you would like to discuss your personal circumstances with one of our experienced family lawyers, please contact our office today. Call us on (07) 3221 4300 to organise a no-obligation initial appointment, at a fixed fee. We will be happy to assist you in person, over the phone or by Skype or Zoom.