09th Dec 2019

Separating families and the festive season – top tips

By Jo Harrison

As we lead up to the festive season, many parents who are in the process of separating will be wondering what lies ahead and how to manage this period as best they can. Concern naturally falls to any children of the family who will inevitably wonder what Christmas and New Year will look like this year given the change in family circumstances.

In this blog Jo Harrison, counsellor and family consultant, and Carla Ditz, professional support lawyer at Family Law in Partnership list some of the things you may wish to think about ahead of the holidays:

  • Expectations: Christmas can stir up all sorts of feelings and expectations for people about what Christmas should be like, some of which can be over-idealised – this applies to all families, whether separated or not. However, after a separation, these feelings can be intensified and by having high expectations people may set themselves up for disappointment as they come to terms with the new landscape of divorce and separation. The “first” Christmas after parents have separated can be particularly difficult as things can look very different from how they did the previous year so it is worth thinking in advance about the reality of this and thinking about what might be of support at this time, whether friends, family or professional support.
  • Planning: Make arrangements as far in advance as possible so everyone can plan ahead of time and so the children will know where they will be at certain stages of the holidays. Making plans is not only important for the children but also for the parents so they can make sure they are not alone on Christmas day or New Year’s Eve for example if the children are with the other parent. Recognise as well, that as with other times of the year, there may be an element of flexibility required. Things may crop up unexpectedly and plans may need to be re-arranged. As a general rule however, try to stick to plans if possible.
  • Communication: Both between parents and in an age appropriate way with the children. Different families will manage this time in different ways and much will depend on how amicable the relationship is between parents. Communication and cordiality will be key and will help keep tensions low, focusing on what is important. Explaining to the children exactly where they will be and that they will be able to see each parent, just at different times. Managing their expectations in this respect will help to avoid disappointment and help with understanding the situation.
  • Respect: It is important to respect each parent’s time with the children. Make sure you have discussed with each other when telephone calls or Facetime with the other parent will be convenient on Christmas Day, for example. Recognise as well that the children will want to spend time with both mum and dad during the Christmas holidays so apportion time fairly and speak to the children about what they would like to do, involving them in the plans where appropriate.
  • Other family members: Remember that extended family members will also wish to spend time with children so it is important to make sure time is set aside and arrangements are made so children do not miss out on quality time with grandparents and other family, who may have traveled far to be with them.

The Christmas period can be a difficult time to manage when families are in the process of redefining themselves after a separation, and working out a new way of being. If you are finding it hard to communicate with your partner and make arrangements, mediation may help to have these discussions in a constructive, supported and structured environment. You may also find it beneficial to speak to one of our trained counsellors. They can help with the emotional challenges at this time of the year in particular and to help you to think about more productive ways of communicating with your partner.  More information about our mediation and counselling services can be found on our website.

If you have concerns about how you will manage your new arrangements over the Christmas period, please do get in contact with any of our experienced family lawyers and mediators on T: 020 7420 5000 or by email at E:  hello@flip.co.uk