Separation is worse at Christmas

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Christmas can be one of the most stressful times of the year for separated and divorced parents.

Research has indicated that one-in-five divorced parents fall out with their ex-partner every year when it comes to making arrangements for their children at Christmas. The same number believe that the process causes so much stress that it has an adverse impact on the welfare of their children.

Although nearly half  of parents (42 percent) admit it is important for their children to have an organised routine for the holidays, more than a quarter (28 percent) indicate they intentionally delayed arranging plans because they feared the arduous conversations with their ex-partner, as agreement rarely occurs.

The festive season is a very emotional time for many families, and most all parents want to spend as much time as they can with their children. While finding an agreement of time distribution of children is often difficult, it is always in the children’s best interests to have a clear plan organised of with whom and where they will spend time with that both parents agree on.

Who decides where the Kids spend their time?

Children should never decide on this for themselves, even though many parents seem to believe this is the best option for the children. Certainly, when a child is in their teen years they can make an informed decision however when the child is younger they should not be consulted, rather advised. This takes the pressure off little minds. The loving, mature, grown-up parents should be able to make decisions in the best interest of their children.

We, unfortunately, find that parents seem to sometimes think more of themselves than their children when discussing and deciding the time both parents spend at Christmas with their kids. Emotions escalate, conflict can erupt and all family members become distressed.

It is challenging, our heart strings are pulled to breaking point, we so passionately want our children with us every minute through Christmas. Parents able to arrange this division of time in an intelligent and amenable manner should be applauded. Once the family unit dissolves, both you and the children miss out on that joined family unit.

We may become upset trying to arrange this time split but one of the most important things to remember is to keep the conflict away from the children and out of ear-shot. Mind you they are likely to read your body language even if they don’t hear your words.

Accepting there may be some emotional strain and preparing for this is essential. It is not the children’s fault nor may it be your fault or the other parent. Sometimes couples just can’t live together anymore, their ideals change and when communication is lost and issues escalate the two are unable to rectify their once close union. Sadly at times, divorce happens.

Arrange your Parenting Plan

I encourage all parents who are separated to organise their Parenting Plan so both know when and where the children will spend their time with each parent. Included in this Pan should be details of Christmas, Easter, school holidays, birthdays and so on. It makes things so much clearer for everyone, including the children.

It is also not unusual for a young child to baulk at spending time with the other parent over this festive season, especially if they have always been in their home yet now need to go elsewhere. They may feel unsure or afraid however if both parents comfort and explain things are now a little different, not better, not worse, just different and speak about spending time in another house as an exciting thing where more gifts are found, they should be more comfortable. Persuasion is key.

It remains important that children feel safe and comfortable to express their feelings, fears and emotions. Often around the parent they are not. They may fear disappointing or upsetting you, so they do not disclose their truth, they keep it bottled up. If you see your child either withdrawing, acting different or displaying challenging behaviour, rest assured they are having difficulty coping. Arrange to have them speak to someone safe, perhaps Nana or Aunty or Uncle or a child therapist who can assist them to understand their feelings and convey it is alright to feel this way, they are not wrong in being angry or scared, it is ok.

The important thing to remember is that Christmas, while a time for all, is a time for children. To enjoy the excitement of surprise gifts, hugs, kisses and attention from their family, all their family. Missing some special days with your children is painful. You will get through it, and it will be easier if both parents can act in a mature accepting manner, understanding each of you miss and want your kids while accepting you can only have them for a specific time each.

Remember there is parent business and child business, these two should never cross over regardless of how tempting it is to ‘put the boot in’ so to speak.

Extended family and grandparents also want to spend time with the children, sometimes it may be the only time they get to see them if they live away. If this is the case then perhaps some additional time may be afforded to the children to spend some time with these other family members, even if it is that other sides family. They remain the family of your children even if no longer yours.

With a little give and take, it can result in assisting both parents at times. Worth the consideration.

Tips to Help you manage to share your child’s time over Christmas:

  1. As parents, you make the decision of where and when the children spend time with their other parent
  2. Regardless of what you think about the other parent, the children are equally yours
  3. Remember the children have two parents and love each of you the same
  4. Never speak badly of the other parent around your child
  5. Never ask the child to relay messages between the two of you
  6. Listen to what your child says, thinks and feel, empathise with them
  7. Tell then you are sorry if they struggle with the current situation

Your children love you. They may love mum and dad differently, and that is OK. Remember to just love and accept them as who they are and tolerate some anger while they manage their emotional distress of their new family situation.

If parents feel they could benefit from a couple of counselling session to assist you learning how to communicate without conflict, please contact a Counsellor or Mediator to manage the variety of issues that will present as life proceeds along. You are not together because you are different and have different styles of communication, different beliefs perhaps and different ways of seeing your world. Accept this difference and proceed along in life the way you want. The other person will always be there because you share children. Accept this, and never make their life difficult as it is likely to bite you when you may need something from them.

Enjoy your festive season, and the time you spend with your children, this is always precious.

Read more from Dr Karen or get information on obtaining your Parenting Plan from the Attorney General’s Website