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Partner and Head of Family Law, Rugby
Christmas, a time of peace and goodwill to all men (and women), or is it? For some separating or separated parents it can be a time that invites animosity and negative feelings toward each other, leaving their children in the middle of their conflict. There may be on-going difficulties around parental contact with children, equally some parents may have settled into a mutually agreeable routine around seeing the children, but for some reason special occasions such as Christmas throws everything into disarray. When parents stop treating their children as real people and contact with them becomes more about entitlement rather than what is best for them, problems can ensue and the risk of emotional damage to the child rapidly increases.
As they reach adulthood, children will want to look back and remember their Christmases with fondness. For the majority of children this means that they will want to remember spending time with both Mum and Dad and having the freedom to enjoy themselves with both parents. Difficult though it is to ‘lose’ your child on Christmas Day, parents must sometimes be generous enough to allow that to happen for the sake of their children. The opportunity to share in the Christmas festivities with both Dad and Mum and their extended families can offer kids the best experience – the best of both worlds.
So how can separated parents manage this? Communication between the adults about how Christmas contact may work, well before the event is more or less essential. Asking the children to carry messages from one parent to another is never advisable; it gives the child too much responsibility and means they have to pick up all the emotional fallout a message may provoke. They also have to act as a ‘filter’ of the information they are transporting between Mum and Dad whilst wanting to remain loyal to both parents and upset neither of them. If parents can’t manage face to face conversations then telephone or email contact can be used. Much significance is attached to spending time with the family at Christmas.
The children we are considering now have two homes and potentially two different families so to try and juggle their time in order that they have equal time with both in the space of one day can be impossible. If separated parents can think of the time as the Christmas Season rather than attach all the importance to Christmas Day, it can offer a lot more flexibility in terms of the festive contact. Children in general won’t mind having two lots of presents and two Christmas lunches on two separate days, in fact they may see that as one of the benefits of having separated parents! It is the parent’s attitude that is the key factor to how children manage Christmas and how much they enjoy it. If a relaxed attitude can be maintained and a competitive one steered clear of, a better time can be enjoyed by all, children will be left with happy memories of a very special time of year.
For more information join us at our 'Divorce Through The Eyes Of A Child' workshop on Monday December 14th, 7pm – 8.30pm