Parenting and Separation: How to avoid the Nightmare Before Christmas

The festive season can be a wonderfully exciting time for families, but it can also be an overwhelming and stressful time, especially when a family is going through a separation.

Uncertainty and confusion about arrangements for what time the children will spend with each parent over Christmas is very common and can be one of the biggest sources of stress, anxiety and conflict over the holiday period.

Having clear simple arrangements in place so everyone knows what is happening can remove a lot of the uncertainty and stop these issues from overshadowing the celebrations.

To help make your family's holiday season as smooth and stress-free as possible, we have put together our top tips for sorting out parenting arrangements over Christmas:

Get in early – planning ahead is Key!

Don’t wait until the kids are on summer holidays to make plans. If possible, start talking with your ex-partner well in advance of the busy Christmas period.

One of the biggest mistakes we see is both parents making their own plans involving the children and then waiting until the last minute to tell the other parent. This often leads to conflicting plans and puts the person seeking time with the children on the automatic back foot as the other party is likely to be annoyed you didn’t advise them of your plans earlier, especially if travel is involved.

Just like in all other aspects of life, nobody appreciates plans being sprung on them last minute. In our experience ex-partners are likely to be more receptive and flexible if you advise them of your intentions to spend time with the kids well before the day arrives.

Planning also benefits the children. When kids are already adapting to the separation and to splitting holidays, it is reassuring for them to be aware of the schedule ahead of time. This way they know what to expect and can emotionally prepare.

Write down your agreement

If you and your ex are able to agree on arrangements, it’s worth investing the time to write those arrangements down so you can make sure that you're literally on the same page.

We often find that if parents don’t write things down, they can discuss holiday arrangements with the best of intentions and genuinely believe that they have sorted them out, but then walk away with different ideas of what they've agreed on or forget the details of the agreement.

As well as the stress of having plans not turn out as expected, this can often damage the parents' ability to co-parent cooperatively in the future, because it can be easy to assume that the other parent was being intentionally misleading or backflipping on an established agreement.

Avoid having too many changeovers

Changeover between parents can often be a stressful time for the children as well as parents. Children are perceptive and they have a tendency to pick up on their parents' emotions, even when those emotions are being suppressed. Even if parents are being perfectly courteous on the surface at changeover, if there is a level of discomfort and unease (as there usually is for a separated couple) children will often experience discomfort and unease themselves.

Additionally, chopping and changing between parents too much over a short period of time can be quite disruptive for children, because they do not have time to settle into being in the care of either parent and enjoy the celebrations before going back to the other parent's care.

Make it fair – It’s all about the kids

When negotiating plans, many parents favour an alternating Christmas arrangement because then each can be satisfied that the time they spend with the kids will balance out over the years.

For example, a common agreement is that one parent will have the children from 3:00 pm on Christmas Eve to 3:00 pm on Christmas Day, and then the other parent will have the children from 3:00 pm on Christmas day to a particular time on Boxing Day. Then those arrangements would be reversed next year.

In that example, the first parent has Christmas morning with the children and can take them to an extended family Christmas lunch. Then there’s still time for the other parent to have some time with the children and take them to an extended family Christmas dinner.

Knowing that the time with the children swaps over each year means each parent will have the opportunity to share with the children the excitement of waking up on Christmas morning, and any traditions the family had for any particular time of the Christmas holidays will be something that the children can continue to experience with each parent over the course of their childhood.

Keep it simple – The Golden Rule

There's so much going on already over the holidays that no-one has the time or mental space to keep track of complex arrangements or changeover patterns.

If you can keep it simple and straightforward it will be easier for you and your ex, but most importantly it will also be easier for the children; they'll know what to expect and understand where they'll be at what time. This allows them to relax and enjoy the festivities without the needless anxiety of not knowing when and where they'll be doing things.

Get help if you need it

We understand that sometimes these things are easier said than done and, in some circumstances, it is not possible (or safe) to communicate directly with your ex when making these types of arrangements.

That’s why we’re here to help. If you need advice on children's arrangements over the summer holidays, please don't hesitate to get in touch with our Family Law team.

We will be staying open throughout the Christmas and New Year's Eve period on all days except on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, so we'll be available to help you and your family.

Please give us a call on 9629 9629 and we would be happy to help you.