As we get closer to the arrival of the big Red man, our family lawyer Sue Westall has some advice about how Christmas can be a great day for all the family, even if you are separated.
It’s all about the kids, not you or your ex.
We all know kids love Christmas, especially the presents. What they don’t like is seeing Mum and Dad arguing on the most special day of the year. So even if you and your ex haven’t seen eye to eye about anything all year, here’s the one day you get to have a break and call a ceasefire. Remember even little kids have big ears and you want them to remember Christmas for other things. Your kids will thank you for it.
Christmas Eve isn’t the time to decide where the kids will be on Christmas Day. Make an agreement now, and put it in writing (an email or text will do) so there’s no confusion about who was supposed to collect the kids or what time they were going to Mum’s. Don’t be that parent arguing it out on the phone while everyone else tucks into the turkey. Here’s a tip, whatever you did last year do the opposite this year – then everyone gets a turn at opening the presents. Pick a time that works for both of you for changeovers - no one wants to leave Christmas lunch halfway through. And if you’re considering driving kids two hours to the other parent in the middle of Christmas Day, see how much they enjoy that (you ‘ll think of a better plan next year).
Stick to your Orders or Agreements
If you have Court orders or an Agreement about where the kids are going to be for Christmas or the holidays, stick to it. Just because you don’t like your ex’s new partner being with the kids for Christmas this year, you aren’t entitled to forget your obligations. Each January the Courts are full with parents who decided to breach Orders over the festive season, and you’ll need a pretty good reason to convince a Judge why you were right to refuse the other parent time at Christmas (trust me, they’ve heard them all). Whatever the problem, sort it out later, or see your lawyer in the New Year.
Take it easy on the Christmas cheer
We all know alcohol loosens the tongue so avoid the temptation to over indulge and get into an argument with the ex when he turns up to collect the kids. And tell Uncle Fred to take it easy too when he’s fuelled up and ready to tell your ex what he really thinks of him or her. Obviously if you have to drive the kids to the other parent after lunch, leave your drinking until after they’ve gone.
It’s all about the presents
If you have an ex who can afford to splurge on expensive gifts, don’t try to compete. It doesn’t matter to your kids who spent more. If you have an ex who only sends them a card and $20 for Christmas, say it’s great anyway and don’t harp about how cheap they are to the kids. It really is the thought that counts and your kids appreciate it even if you don’t. A kid can only ride one bike at a time, so make sure you organise who’s giving what, and keep the receipts in case someone gets it wrong and doubles up.
Here comes the in-laws……
Your kids still have both sides of the family to visit over Christmas, just as you both did before you separated. Be generous about giving them enough time to visit the ex’s side as well. And when the extended family comes over on Boxing Day, remind them that showing support for you doesn’t mean bagging your ex in front of the kids. They might think they’re helping, but the kids don’t want to know what Grandma never really liked about Dad.
If it’s the first Christmas
Your kids will of course remember last Christmas when Dad and Mum were still together and may miss one parent not being there on Christmas morning. Think about inviting your ex to drop by for opening the presents, even if you have separate plans for the rest of the day. Making some presents from both Mum and Dad is a good idea too, and be flexible if the children ask to go to the other house a little earlier or come home a little later.
Even if your family is separated, Christmas can still be fun for everyone – and most of all, fun for your kids.
Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!