The prospect of being on school holidays, receiving gifts and spending extended time with loved ones mean most children anticipate Christmas with brimming excitement. But for children whose parents have separated in the course of the year, the first Christmas after separation may also be a very difficult time. Understanding the particular challenges that your children might face this first Christmas can assist newly-separated parents to better support their children through this period.
New traditions over old
Disputes over Christmas arrangements are common and often very emotionally charged. Newly separated parents dealing with the increased stress, expense and turmoil of the holiday season can find Christmas particularly challenging, as the traditions of their coupled family unit no longer apply to their post-separation lives. Children will inevitably feel this turmoil, and may also be experiencing their own journey through grief and loss.
Trying to follow the same rituals, but with one parent missing or the family dynamic otherwise unrecognisably changed, may only serve to highlight the break-up. Thwarted expectations can be the thief of joy during this period.
Newly-single parents may benefit from reframing their understanding of what a family Christmas looks like for their children and themselves. Marking the occasion differently, with new delicious treat foods, new Christmas Eve preparations, and new present-opening rituals, may help bring excitement and the joy of surprise to the new (smaller) family. Don’t be afraid to change it up a little!
Two (or more) Christmasses
For some children, Christmas Day will now have two different phases, as they transition between homes and families somewhere around the middle of the day. Other children may spend Christmas Day with one parent, and Boxing Day with the other, perhaps with no contact with their non-resident parent on Christmas Day itself. Still other children will have parents who decide that they can manage to spend the day together with the children, despite no longer being a couple. Family lawyers encounter almost as many different sets of Christmas arrangements as there are families, as each family navigates their own unique circumstances.
Being practical about what is logistically appropriate for children at their ages and stages will help children enjoy their changed Christmas routine. Avoiding overly long car journeys is recommended if at all possible. Parents should also try to keep in mind that Christmas food can be very rich, and small children especially do not travel well on rich food, hastily consumed. Also, allowing children to take some of their newly-opened Christmas presents with them when transitioning between homes can be just the kindness the children need to allow them to fully enjoy their day.
Presence, more than presents
Newly separated parents may well be dealing with their own emotional turmoil at this time of year, as they attend family events as a solo parent, often for the first time. Staying focussed on their children’s emotional rather than material needs can be difficult when the children themselves may just seem to want the Christmas presents. However, it is important to give children time and energy, and not just gifts, during the excitement of Christmas. Staying emotionally present will make it easier to respond empathetically if children feel overwhelmed or upset by their changed circumstances.
Lynn and Brown Lawyers encourage anyone needing help to negotiate post-separation parenting arrangements to get in touch with one of our experienced family lawyers. You can contact us through our website www.lynnandbrown.com.au or by calling 08 9375 3411.
About the Author: Alison is a career-change family lawyer at Lynn & Brown Lawyers. Alison’s experience includes working with extended family members with care of children after relationship breakdowns.