At Christmas time, every parent wants to spend lots of time with their child: to wake on Christmas Day and see the excitement in their child’s eyes as they open gifts from Santa, and to share another year of memories. When parents are sharing parenting, arranging how children will spend time over Christmas is very challenging. Both parents want this special day with their child.
Unfortunately, for many, this is not possible because their relationship with the other parent may not be in a good enough place to allow for this. Parents may feel they have a right to have this special time with their child without the discomfort of the other parent being there. What I always ask parents to think about is: how would your child like to spend Christmas? It may be easier for you not to have to see the other parent on Christmas Day, but what if having both parents on Christmas Day makes it really special for your child? If this is the case, then try to find a way to accommodate this, for them.
This is the time to start talking with your child, and their other parent, to agree what Christmas will look like. By 1st December, the aim should be to have a plan in place. Leaving contact plans until nearer to Christmas will increase the level of anxiety for everyone and make it more likely that conflict will occur. Christmas is about creating memories for your children. Hopefully, you have many wonderful memories from your own childhood and now is the time to create those for your child.
Sit with your child and talk about what you both like about Christmas. Ask them what they enjoyed about last year and what they didn’t. If this is your first year of sharing parenting, then talk with them about what they have always enjoyed. Think about the traditions you had as a family that can possibly continue, and think also about how you can create new traditions. Creating traditions with your child after a separation can be a wonderful way of looking forward to events with them.
Try to communicate clearly with the other parent what you would like to see happen, and allow them time to think. Don’t expect a yes or no answer, and don’t expect an answer immediately. Allow them time to digest what you are suggesting.
Think about how you can keep your child central to Christmas, and create a plan that supports your child's enjoyment of Christmas. It may require you to get some extra support, but if you see your child excited and looking forward to Christmas then you will be motivated to keep going. Remind yourself that the energy and patience you need to share, in such a non-selfish way, will be worth it for them.
Younger children can buy into the concept of Santa, leaving gifts in both homes. They can then collect their gifts in the other home the next day. New Year's Eve or Christmas Eve are also special days, and so the parent who doesn’t have their child on Christmas Day can look forward to one or both of these days. Preparing for Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve can be magical for a child and parent. Everything doesn't have to be about Christmas Day.
Children need parents to be happy at Christmas, and if this means they go without seeing one of their parents, then perhaps this is best. Children do not want to see conflict and tears at Christmas. Santa can become less important when you have family conflict and parental happiness to worry about.
When parents separate, it is meant to be about supporting themselves and their children to have a happier future. If this is not what you are experiencing, then maybe it is time to ask for some support. Often, we get stuck in a cycle of poor communication resulting in conflict from the pain and hurt caused by the separation. In order to parent well we must allow life to move, and we must move on with it and find our happiness.
One Family’s askonefamily helpline provides support for people who are parenting alone, sharing parenting or separated, on 1890 662 212.
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