Christmas can be a wonderful time of celebration and yet, it can also be a time of enormous stress. Financial strain and complicated access arrangements can leave separated parents feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted. Planning ahead is crucial as this time of year can be really hard for parents who are not living with their children; often separated families may feel as though everyone else is having a perfect family Christmas, while they feel more isolated and alone than at any other time of the year.
Hopefully you are on good terms with your children’s other parent and you can try to negotiate as early as possible to arrange times and days to see the children. If so, great, but if relationships are strained and agreement difficult, then Family Mediation can help you explore the best options and solutions for you. For example, if the ‘other’ parent has the children on Christmas Day, perhaps accommodation could be made so that you could instead organise a Christmas for you and the children on one of the other special festive days, or arrange a time on Christmas Day itself when you can give the children their presents. Perhaps you could even alternate the years, so that you get to spend Christmas Day with the children every other year.
Exploring the options available, reaching an agreement and being flexible will work to everyone’s benefit.
A rota is valuable so that both children and parents know in advance where, when and with whom they will be spending the festive days – this will benefit everyone in the long run. This doesn’t make it less painful, but it makes it easier to plan early celebrations and visits to relatives so no-one feels they’re missing out.
On the subject of relatives – don’t forget that Christmas can also affect grandparents. The parents of the non-resident parent may be unlikely to see their grandchildren at Christmas which can be upsetting. Like the non-resident parent, grandparents could try to organise a special day, or a time around Christmas, when they could give their grandchildren their presents and enjoy their company.
Another important aspect of Christmas arrangements for parents to consider through mediation is that the time you do actually spend with your children over Christmas should be special. Many separated parents try to ‘outdo’ each other – this is likely to lead to stress and disappointment, as at least one parent often can’t live up to the expectations and may end up feeling second best. When one parent is spending a large amount on expensive gifts, or taking the children on a costly holiday for example, the other parent may feel that he or she can’t offer the same amount and this in turn can lead to a great deal of heartache. A budget plan is usually high on the Agenda and is a good idea for separated parents approaching Christmas – these can save not only a great deal of unnecessary stress but also cash as well since it can prevent parents effectively doubling up on expensive gifts and allow them to control their spending more wisely.
Mediating a suitable plan for this special time of year helps you avoid last minute confusion and potential arguments while at the same time ensuring that each parent gets the opportunity to enjoy time with their child/ren.
See Change Family Mediation Services (www.seechangemediation.ie) can provide you with a safe and neutral forum where, as parents, you can negotiate a plan that best suits your family. We will then help you draw up a suitable agreement in advance of Christmas and create a Calendar which will help both you and your children enjoy the holiday to the full without uncertainty.
In the run-up to Christmas we are accustomed to working extra hours to facilitate parents who are anxious to put suitable arrangements in place for the holiday period. As well as the usual office hours we offer evening and Saturday times by appointment.
We would recommend that you don’t leave things until the last minute – the earlier that access arrangements are agreed – the sooner you can begin to relax and enter into the festive spirit.