Christmas: Advice for Separated Parents
My husband and I divorced quite acrimoniously and since then Christmas has been a difficult time of year. Our extended families don’t get on, and our children can get quite sad and angry about the situation. This year, without the usual December distractions, I am worried that it’s going to be particularly difficult for them. Do you have any advice?
As we know, the holiday season creates all sorts of expectations, some of which can be over-idealised. The first holiday season after a divorce or separation can be particularly challenging – things can look very different from the way they looked the previous year. This year of all years it may be more important than ever to manage expectations both for yourself and for your children early on. For example, talk in an age appropriate way about how sad it is that certain things that you usually do might not be possible, whether that is going ice-skating or going to stay with their grandparents on Boxing Day.
It’s helpful if your children can let you know that they feel sad and angry even if their feelings are hard to hear. This alIows them to feel understood and gives them a space to talk about their sadness and anger about your divorce. Prioritise having some quality time with them at home, within the Covid restrictions, where they can relax and you can be available for them. This has been a particularly hard year for children and they have suffered without their friends and day to day structures. It has also been a hard year for single parents. Consider reframing the lack of external things to do with the children as an opportunity to have a quieter time where you spend time connecting with each other. It may be helpful to meet them at their level whatever their age – learn about their video game, watch their Tik Tok dance, build a reindeer out of Lego, even if it feels like you ought to be doing something else.
However acrimonious the relationship is between you and your ex, it’s important that you respect your former partner’s and the children’s need for time with each other over the holiday season if that has been agreed. As far as possible, plan ahead so that everyone knows the arrangements. It may feel really hard for you when your children are away with their father so try to think ahead about how best to support yourself during this time, whether that is by arranging calls with friends or speaking to a professional or getting stuck into something interesting. Supporting yourself will support the children as it will leave them freer to enjoy their time with their father. Encourage your children to enjoy their time with their father and make sure that you have discussed with him when telephone calls or Facetime with the children will take place.
Christmas is usually a time to meet up with extended families but with the bubble arrangements this Christmas it might not be possible to meet up with everyone. However, the guidance so far is that children under the age of 18 whose parents do not live together may be part of both parents’ Christmas bubbles. Therefore, it seems that children will theoretically be able to meet with both sets of extended families. The rules only apply to a short period of time between the 23rd and 27th December 2020. This may not correlate to arrangements that were made pre-Pandemic, such as court orders or parenting agreements that say the children will spend Christmas with their mum and New Year with their dad, for example. So, there may need to be some flexible thinking to fit different plans around these dates.
Flexible thinking is hard when you really don’t get on with your partner, but if you can try to think about it from the children’s point of view this might help you to think about how best to support them in these challenging times. Quality time with their grandparents (who may be people you have no wish to spend any time with) is important for children and can be a helpful and safe space for them. Of course, this year not everyone will feel comfortable meeting up with grandparents. Again, thinking creatively about how to support the children’s relationship with their extended family will be in their best interests whether that’s having a phone call or Zoom or simply sending a card.
It’s hard when a relationship with an ex is acrimonious. It can point to unresolved feelings about the ending of the relationship. Think about whether 2021 is the year you want to try and change that. Therapy can be really helpful for individuals and couples to work through these issues. At FLiP our lawyers work alongside our support team of mediators and therapists to try and take the acrimony out of these difficult situations. It’s also important to bear in mind that if your children are struggling it may be helpful for them to have some support, whether through their school pastoral care or with a child specialist, such as a child psychotherapist.
Family Law in Partnership Director Bradley Williams specialises in complex financial remedy applications, applications regarding the property of non-married couples and private children law issues. Bradley has been described as a “a shrewd litigator” and “ Vastly experienced and wise, Bradley is a master tactician who stays one step ahead of the process.”
Jo Harrison is an in-house counsellor and family consultant at Family Law in Partnership. She has a depth and breadth of expertise in working with clients who are separating or divorcing. Jo is sensitive to the impact of relationship breakdown and how it can affect individuals and families. As a relationship counsellor, Jo fully appreciates the emotional upheaval and difficulties of a separation and as a former family lawyer she understands the particular pressures of going through the legal process.
At Family Law in Partnership our aim is to make the experience of family change better so that our clients can successfully move forward with their lives. We are expert family and divorce lawyers but we also make it our job to understand the emotional impact of divorce and separation on you and your family.
For further information on our unique approach to helping couples through family breakdown, contact any of our leading divorce and family lawyers at E: firstname.lastname@example.org or T: 020 7420 5000.