A survival guide to agreeing arrangements about the children this Christmas

Christmas can be stressful for every family, but for parents who are no longer a couple, it can be extra tricky. Follow our top tips to reduce the stress and bring the joy back to Christmas, for you and the children.

When will you see them?

Start the conversation with your children’s other parent as early as possible, to give yourself plenty of time to come to an arrangement and so that the children know what to expect. Some people even agree what will happen a year in advance.

Don’t expect to get it all agreed the first time you discuss it. As for all families, it can take a bit of complicated diary juggling to ensure that everyone sees everybody they should, including grandparents and step-families, etc.

“We have to come up with a different arrangement every year. Partly because my daughter tends to be quite vocal about what she wants to do, and that changes every year. But also because every year I think our circumstances have changed. You’ve got to try to be as flexible and understanding as you can be, but it’s tough every year.” Sam

Is it vital that you both see them on Christmas Day itself? In the UK we tend to put a lot of pressure on one day, but many parents arrange a 'fake Christmas'. This way both parents get a whole day together (and with new partners or members of their extended family) to do all the traditional festive things, just on a different day. And the children get to celebrate twice - what’s not to love!

Many other parents arrange a time on Christmas Day for the parent who doesn’t have them at their house that day to drop in for a spot of festive cheer around the Christmas tree, and to watch the children open their presents.

Others have an arrangement where the children have Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in one house and then go to see their other parent (and his or her family) for Christmas lunch and evening.

Many parents do the same thing every year, whilst others alternate arrangements each year so that nobody need feel hard done by.

What will work best (for you, the children, their other parent, and new partners and families) will depend on how easy you find it to be all together, how far apart you live, and how many other members of your family the children are keen to see over Christmas. The only important thing is that you avoid putting your children under pressure to choose, or allow them to feel that they have somehow let one of you down by enjoying Christmas with the other.

“With teenagers and older children, you have to be even more flexible at this time of year - you won't generally know about things like their friends' parties or school Xmas discos a long way in advance. I try not to insist they see me if there’s something special that they would miss, instead I try to be part of the happiness by offering them a lift to the party, or helping them choose their outfit.“ Susana

 

When you are together

The most important thing is that the time that you do spend with your children over Christmas is special for both of you.

Don’t try to outdo their other parent as it is only likely to lead to stress and sadness for all of you. If you can, agree what presents you’ll give them and any other treats like theatre trips or cinema visits. There are few things more disappointing (for both you and the children) than watching them excitedly unwrap presents only to see their faces fall as they explain that ‘Mum/Dad gave me this too’.  If both parents can make the presents and treats they give the children roughly equal too, it will reduce the tension for everyone.

“Children know when you're trying to buy their love. And they exploit it! We found that they were playing us off against each other a bit, and we fell for it and started to buy bigger and bigger presents for them. Now we email each other to agree what we’ll each do for Christmas and birthdays.” Tim 

Children often worry that that you’ll feel betrayed if they say they had fun with their other parent. One way of avoiding this is to ask the other parent what they did and show great enthusiasm at their replies. The children will soon relax and be willing to talk about it themselves.

Make it easy for the children to show their pleasure. They will be excited by the presents they received from their other parent or other family members. Do your best to share in their excitement and delight. Ask them to show you or talk about some of the presents they have been given and do your best ‘wow’ noises, or get straight down to a game with them.

 

If you are not seeing your children this Christmas

If you haven’t been able to come to an agreement at all, you don’t have to be completely absent from the festive fun, particularly with older children. Are there any methods you can use to communicate directly with them that show that you love them and are thinking of them, but without putting pressure on them? Quick texts, sharing a dancing elf or YouTube clip that will make them laugh, or playing computer games together over the internet can all be a festive highlight too.

For more help and tips on agreeing arrangements for the children, or dealing with problems when they arise, see our in-depth guide - A survival guide to sorting out arrangements for your children

If you have tried to come to an agreement and are now considering taking legal steps see our in-depth guide - How to apply for a court order about the arrangements for your children without the help of a lawyer

November 2017

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