The holiday season can be a very emotional and stressful time for families that have recently separated. It may be a daunting process to work out who the children spend time with, particularly if this is the children’s first Christmas shared between two families. Here are some useful tips to co-parent and navigate the “new normal” this Christmas:
Create new traditions
There is no doubt that your Christmas will look a little bit different this year. Both parents and the children may feel uncertain about how to enjoy and celebrate Christmas between two different homes. Be mindful that one parent may adopt a new role or responsibility during Christmas that you may not be used to. Try and embrace the “new normal” by creating new traditions this Christmas. Some ideas may be…
- Take the children to a Christmas tree farm and pick your own Christmas tree this year!
- Have an arts and crafts day by creating your own bauble.
- Have fun in the kitchen and make a gingerbread house or a Christmas-themed mocktail.
- Buy matching Christmas sweaters or pyjamas.
- Put your musical hats on and create a Christmas song parody.
- Watch Christmas movies together.
Communication is key
It is really important to openly and amicably communicate with the other parent about your upcoming holiday ideas and plans with the children. Set clear boundaries with the other parent and reflect on your parenting agreement in writing so that both parents are on the same page. Plan ahead by establishing the dates, times and locations of when and where the children will be with each parent. Try and give the other parent plenty of notice if your plans change so that the other parent can adjust their plan schedule.
Stay connected by using technology to co-parent and communicate effectively. There are plenty of apps or shared calendars to share the children’s travel itinerary, appointments, medical updates, or photographs of the children. Communicating via technology is your saving grace if you and the other parent are not on amicable terms or there are usually high levels of conflict involved.
Keep your cool and be flexible
Be mindful that the times, dates or plans previously agreed upon between you and the parent may change due to unforeseeable circumstances this holiday season. For example, there is a traffic jam, a child may be sick, one parent may receive unexpected visitors, natural disasters, etc. It is important to keep your cool and remain flexible… sometimes there are things that are outside of everyone’s control! Put your best foot forward and notify the other parent as soon as reasonably practicable if the plans have changed.
Talk to your children
Sitting down with your children and actually talking to them about what Christmas will look like this year is invaluable. This will eliminate any anxiety or uncertainty that your children may be feeling. For example, young children may worry about Santa not knowing where to deliver their presents this year. It is also important to listen to what your children want without any judgment or making them feel guilty. Children will often tell you what you want to hear because they don’t want to upset you or disappoint you. However, older children may have a preference of where they would like to spend Christmas this year.
Put yourself in the children’s shoes
It is important to carefully consider appropriate changeover times this holiday season. Some parents make the rookie mistake of setting the changeover time to 12:00pm. Does either parent or the children really want to miss out on Christmas lunch and travel to the other parent’s house in the middle of the day?
Be courteous to your ex’s family
Christmas is a special day where the children can spend time with their grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins and extended family. Be mindful that your ex’s family will also want to celebrate Christmas and exchange gifts with your children. It may be tricky to share the love…however your ex’s family is equally as important as your own.
Spend time with friends and family
You may not be feeling particularly festive this year as you adjust to the new ‘normal’. Be kind to yourself and remember that it is perfectly fine to feel sad or lonely this Christmas. You may put on a brave face for the children’s sake, however it is equally important for someone to take care of you during this difficult time. Reach out to your support networks and surround yourself with your friends and family. Here are some tips to stay connected with your loved ones or how to spend time alone if you live far away from loved ones on Christmas Day:
- Visit your loved ones.
- Call or FaceTime your loved ones.
- Volunteer at a local organization.
- Visit a neighbour.
- Reach out to your religious community.
- Indulge in some self-care.
- Immerse yourself in nature – go to the beach or go on a bush walk.
- Start planning a holiday!
- Read a book.
- Reflect – write down all the things that you are grateful for, all the lessons you learnt that year and your goals for next year.
Be mindful of competitive gift giving
It brings children great comfort when they know that their parents are on the same page with gift-giving. Just remember that children are commonly caught in the middle of parents who are unable to communicate with each other properly and are often left feeling awkward when they receive the same present from both parents. Try and refrain from ‘competing’ against the other parent by purchasing over-the-top or extravagant presents to intentionally make the other parent feel bad – you can’t buy your children’s love!
Stay on Santa’s nice list
Set a good example for your children and stay on Santa’s ‘nice list’! Refrain from complaining, denigrating, belittling or insulting the other parent in front of your children on Christmas Day. It is perfectly normal to feel frustrated or annoyed towards your ex on Christmas Day…however try and avoid conflict and allow your children to focus on the festivities and playing with their new toys!
This blog is merely general and non-specific information on the subject matter and is not and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice. Coutts is not responsible for any cost, expense, loss or liability whatsoever to this blog, including all or any reliance on this blog or use or application of this blog by you.