Stop ‘ho ho ho’ turning into ‘boo hoo hoo’ and learn how to legally navigate enjoying your family holidays without worry and anxiety.
Christmas is supposed to be full of love and joy, and all hurdles are overcome with a touch of magic – according to all Christmas films.
In reality, for adults, Christmas is challenging. Whether you’re hosting at your place or navigating multiple family arrangements, getting through the day can be a struggle. And that’s before you throw in human dynamics – seating together people with opposing political views, accidentally handing your alcoholic auntie an Aperol spritz, or having your meat-loving nephew declare himself a vegan.
Christmas is when family is supposed to be together. But if you’re separated or divorced, Christmas is probably the trickiest time to navigate, particularly where children are concerned. Often, even legal visitation can be tricky and stressful.
As children ourselves, we probably experienced at least one Christmas Day that ended in fights or sadness. So ask yourself: What do I want for my children? How do I want them to remember their Christmases when they’re older? And finally, what’s more important – scoring points or creating happy memories for my kids?
Then you can start to create a Christmas experience that, while it may not be perfect, is more likely to be remembered fondly by your children.
In theory, two Christmases seems fun to kids – twice as many presents! The reality is problematic, especially if there’s tension between parents.
So whether this is your first Christmas as a separated family or you’ve been co-parenting for a while, here are things to think about to help legally navigate your family holiday.
Respect is critical, and means – don’t speak badly of your ex, their family, or new partner. Acknowledge the pivotal role you each play in your children’s lives. In many instances, there’s a point at which the rancour has to stop – and there’s no better time than Christmas. At some point, you loved each other enough to bring a child into the world so hark back to that time and focus on that feeling for the sake of your children.
This doesn’t mean being a doormat – it’s about listening to each other, working out a fair approach, and keeping your children as the centre of your world. Like it or not, chances are you’ll always be connected because of your children, so as adults, you just have to make it work. Speak kindly about the other parent, ask your children if they’re looking forward to Christmas, help them pick out a gift for their other parent.
If you both conquer respect, chances are everything else will flow more easily.
Sort things out early, between you
Plan this period in advance, without your children. It’s likely you’ll need to compromise so be prepared. Work out how Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will work – where they’ll sleep and wake up, where they’ll open gifts, how they’ll travel between parents, which meal they’ll participate in, whether Boxing Day or another day is an option for a second Christmas.
The children’s ages, and potential other children in the mix if you’ve a blended family, will often dictate this.
Consider traditions that the children are used to – a special family lunch with the extended family of one parent, particularly if there are cousins they have fun with, church services, fasting, opening gifts on Christmas Eve. For children (and often for adults), traditions bring familiarity and in turn security and comfort. Unless they’re babies, they know what to expect. So where there’s been family disruption, it makes sense to stick closely to those traditions to retain that positive Christmas memory for your kids.
Children pick up vibes, negative and positive, from people around them and can lead to worry and anxiety. They may overhear angry conversations, even behind closed doors, or hear you banging plates in the kitchen, and take on that stress for themselves. Kids are too young for this, especially at Christmas when it’s best when you really are a kid. Minimising your own stress can remove that from the kids. This is where being organised with plans and expectations comes into play.
If your partner is not in tune with you
Seek legal advice to apply for parenting orders. These are set down by the court and form part of children’s visitation and living arrangements. Importantly, parenting orders are determined by the court for the benefit of children – not for parents or other family members.
If you’ve formed a blended family with other children, there are exponentially more reasons to implement basic rules to retain civil arrangements.
Know a disconnected family?
Be supportive. Follow the same rules when it comes to the children – respect for the other parent, and avoid contributing to the pressure by adding your own expectations.
Of course – if the situation is more complicated and you have genuine concerns for your children’s safety, speak to police.
It’s important to remember that Christmas isn’t about fancy decorations or expensive gifts, and it’s definitely not about the adults. Christmas really is about the Christmas spirit, as twee as that sounds, love, and the kids.
Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays from your friends at CM Lawyers