Coping with Christmas when you are a separated parent

Christmas is fast approaching and although it is meant to be a joyful time of year it can prove extremely stressful for separated parents and for their children. The build up to the Christmas holidays seems to start earlier each year and for separated parents this can result in them feeling stressed and anxious about the arrangements for weeks or possibly months in advance.

If separated parents are feeling anxious and tense about the arrangements it is more than likely that their children will be feeling the same way. It is easy to feel that everyone else is enjoying their perfect family Christmas in harmony whilst viewing your own situation as the complete opposite. This can lead to feelings of sadness, anger and resentment for separated parents and children alike.

Tips to reduce the stress of agreeing Christmas arrangements

1. Try to discuss arrangements with your ex -partner as far in advance as possible – this will allow time to fine tune any arrangements and for both parents to plan ahead.

2. Be reasonable! - put the best interests of your children first – in most situations children will want to spend time with both parents over Christmas. When parents are in dispute over where the children should spend Christmas day itself the court will usually say that it should be alternated each year between parents regardless of with whom a child might live with.

3. Don’t put your children in a position of having to choose – this puts undue pressure on any child and could be detrimental to their emotional wellbeing.

4. Is celebrating on 25th December itself really so important? – it’s a date, exactly the same celebrations can be arranged for the 26th or a few days earlier or later. Children will usually just be happy to have more than one celebration!

5. Present arrangements for the Christmas period as agreed between you and your ex- partner to your children as far ahead as possible – otherwise children can feel guilty or upset that they have gone against one parent’s wishes.

6. Do not enter into a competition over presents with your ex- partner – this can increase tension between you and have a negative impact on your ability to communicate as separated parents. Try and agree what gifts you might each buy in advance and set a limit to spend if possible.

7. Taking the children away – sometimes parents want to take their children away on holiday over the Christmas period. If this is the case then take into account how the children and other parent may feel about not seeing each other during the Christmas holidays and try to agree a plan well in advance rather than dictating arrangements.

8. Seeing grandparents and other family members – consider the children’s feelings and that it is likely that they would wish to spend time with extended family to celebrate. It can be tricky trying to coordinate so many different dates but planning well in advance and starting the conversation about the arrangements will make it easier.

9. Alternative plans – if you are not spending Christmas with your children then consider who else you would spend it with. Sometimes friends are in the same situation and it can help to spend it together.

10. Arrangements for the rest of the year are more important than Christmas - Focus on the bigger picture – your children will be happier if you have a positive relationship with your ex-partner so don’t let discussions over Christmas arrangements impinge upon that.

The key is to plan ahead so that you have ample time to discuss and agree arrangements well in advance. Even if you feel that the conversation is going to be tricky, raise it early and keep an open mind.

If you feel that you need assistance in dealing with arrangements then consider mediation as a non- confrontational route to sort things out. If your ex- partner refuses to attend mediation then seeking legal advice from a solicitor will help you understand your options.

At Surrey Hills Solicitors our Family law partner, Rachael Anderson, is both a mediator and solicitor. Call her on 01306 877592 or email

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