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Christmas: A helpful guide for recently separated parents

View profile for Amanda Rimmer
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How quickly time flies! The festive season is already upon us and if your family is anything like mine, you’ll be looking forward to the usual fun-filled, but manic, Christmas.

It’s a time when family come together, sometimes from great distances, to celebrate. However, with the stress of planning and making arrangements, it also often becomes an occasion where tensions are running high.

For some families, Christmas can act as a catalyst for problems they have been dealing with in the run-up to the festive season – particularly in cases of recent separations or divorce - and can damage what should be a celebration for everyone.

Unfortunately, when parents are unable to put aside their own hurt feelings, it is the child that bears the brunt of a conflict.

That's why our specialist family solicitors have come together to provide 10 ‘top tips’ from our specialist family solicitors, helping parents work together to have a calm and happy Christmas.

Always Plan Ahead
Present-buying, cooking a huge dinner and meeting with family are all plans that can cause a great deal of stress and are always better being taken care of in advance. The issue of where the child stays over the festive period is of particular importance.

Arguments between separated parents often arise due to failure – or refusal – to communicate and cooperate. It can be difficult to concede any time with your child to a former partner, but it is a fruitless battle that will only cause pain for the child.

At Christmas, children want to spend time with and feel loved by both of their parents. Arguing about where the child stays will ruin the celebrations and leave them feeling divided.

Make a plan, and stick to it. That way there can be no confusion – and no conflict – on Christmas Day.

Don’t get hung up on the little things
Christmas often involves small, meaningful traditions that are treasured by families.

These traditions are often a great source of comfort to separated parents, as they bond with their children. Understandably, both parties will want to make sure that these moments are protected.

But placing too much emphasis on little traditions can do more harm than good. Failing to agree on where the children wake up to their presents, for instance, can spark a long, tiring dispute. This will only upset the children and will endanger the child’s enjoyment of Christmas before the day even arrives.

Try not to get hung up on the little things. That way you can get on with the usual chaos of the day itself.

It’s not a competition
After the pain and stress of a separation, it is understandable that parents might feel tempted to overcompensate by trying to make this Christmas extra-special for the children.

However, this can go awry when separated parents do not communicate on or engage in one-upmanship, particularly when it comes to presents. What children want more than anything is for their parents to get along, not to feel as if they are caught in the middle.

Step-parents or new partners should also keep this in mind. No matter what your partner’s feelings might be towards their ex, always be respectful for the children’s sake, and avoid any behaviour that might be construed as competing with the absent parent for their affections.

Respect everyone’s roles
The role of step-parents or new partners at can often be overlooked.

Children will often need time to adapt to a new family situation, particularly at Christmas. If you are the new partner of mum or dad, respect their concerns and frustrations and don’t push them to accept you as a new parental figure too soon.

This is most successfully achieved when you make an effort to be a friend rather than a parent in the eyes of both the children and the ex-partner. Don’t be rude about your partner’s ex around the children and try to be as supportive to your partner and stepchildren as possible.

Be on the same side
Christmas is the highlight of many children’s year, and it is not a time for estranged parents to air out their grievances with one another.

Agree on sensible plans and don’t put pressure on the children to choose sides. Asking the child where they would prefer to spend Christmas might seem like a good idea, but could put them on the spot and make them scared of hurting feelings.

Christmases are milestones for children, particularly at a young age, so don’t create lasting memories of a bad Christmas Day. Any issues between the parents should be discussed away from the children, so that you don’t both end up feeling distanced from them.

Take the time to explain

It is always important for children to feel comfortable approaching their parents to confide in them. Trust is key, and children need to know you can be honest with them.

This means explaining what will be happening over the holidays, so that they understand everything that will be going on before the hustle and bustle gets underway. Let them know that they can come to you and talk about anything that might worry them.

A lot of children will appreciate being spoken to in a mature and respectful way. They are not blind to what is going on around them, so taking some time to address their concerns and give them a thorough explanation as to the Christmas plans can do a world of good and eliminate a lot of stress for everyone involved.

Speak to your child in an age appropriate way
This being said, there is also a time and a place for certain conversations, and it is a parent’s responsibility to recognise when there are some things a child just doesn’t need to hear.

This could be something about things that have happened between yourself and your partner whether in the past or present. Although separation can be stressful and leave people feeling lonely, find friends and family to confide in and put your child’s feelings first at all times.

Avoid the blame game
Although you know the children aren’t to blame when things come to a head before Christmas, that does not mean that they do.

A tense atmosphere or outbursts of aggression are sure-fire ways of making a child feel at fault, as will directing anger at the children when frustration is the real root of the problem.

If you feel as though things are too stressful, or if you are struggling to come to an agreement with your ex-partner, take a quiet moment to reflect on how it can be resolved without anyone having to argue.

Again, take it away from the child’s line of vision.

Establish a support network
Family Christmases are all different, with everyone celebrating in a way that is personal to them. For those that have family close by, it can provide a great deal of support and comfort for the parent and the children to see them on Christmas Day.

Preparing Christmas celebrations for the children can also be a daunting task, so why not see if any grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles or friends want to come and spend Christmas with you.

Having loved ones over creates a great atmosphere for the children and can ease the strain of looking after the children on your own.

Try and relax
As long as the arrangements for everyone’s sleeping, eating and opening presents have been made well in advance, all that should be left to do is enjoy the time you have with your family.

Don’t waste time fretting about the perfect Christmas, just make sure the children are safe and are happy with you for the time you have. Be aware that you are responsible for the children on your own, so keep your wellbeing and theirs in mind at all times.

Avoid excessive alcohol consumption throughout the day, even if you do not have custody for the children at the time, as you could be called out to collect them.

Let your children know that a safe and happy Christmas is your number one priority, and that doesn’t have to change just because the day is now spent with parents individually rather than together.