The 12 Ways of Christmas

Sharing care of children with a smile on your face over the festive period can seem an insurmountable task, especially if feelings are raw and emotions are bubbling under the surface leaving everyone on edge. So just how do you do it?  
In the spirit of working together, family lawyer and mediator Sue McArthur and collaborative family lawyer, mediator and arbitrator Clare Thornton – both Brighter Future members - have put their heads together to come up with the 12 Ways of Christmas; 12 tips that you might find helpful, especially if you are dealing with your first Christmas after separating or divorcing.
1.    Stay positive: If children sense tension and stress, this can make it difficult for them to enjoy themselves with the other parent and can lead to bigger problems later. If you present a less stressful ‘face’ to the other parent, it is likely to reduce the stress between you. This will then hopefully allow both of you to try and enjoy the time that each of you spend with the children and allow the children to enjoy the time with the other parent.
2.    Don’t make children choose between you: Children shouldn’t be asked to make decisions, but should be guided by their parents. If both of you have plans for the children, it helps if you can agree when each of you will be able to spend time with them to put those plans into action.
3.    Do what works for YOUR family: It is likely you will encounter other families experiencing separation this Christmas and some, especially those who have been separated for several years, may make it look easy. Resist the urge to compare; everyone’s situation is different. Likewise, whilst friends and the wider family may believe they are giving well-meaning advice, only you and your ex-partner will truly understand the new circumstances that you find yourself in and be able to decide how best to deal with them.
4.    Keep it fair: Some families choose to alternate Christmases so that one year the children spend time with one parent on Christmas Eve until some point on Christmas day and then go to the other parent for the rest of Christmas day and into Boxing day. This then alternates the following year so that the children spend one Christmas morning with each parent on a rotating two-year basis. This type of arrangement plays well onto a child’s sense of ‘fairness’. And on that note, you may also want to try to…
5.    Share and share alike: Sometimes people get on well enough to share Christmas in one home, with the other parent either staying in the spare room the night before, or arriving early enough to watch the excitement of present opening. With younger children, spending Christmas morning with both parents would allow them to enjoy that special time without having to choose between you, provided, of course, there is no conflict, or tension.
6.    Put the children first: If sharing a Christmas with your ex isn’t possible, and circumstances mean you won’t see your children in person on the day itself, try and arrange a phone call or skype conversation, but also try to plan a day for yourself that means you can enjoy the day without worrying too much about what you’re missing.
7.    Consider children’s wishes: With older children, it is important to consider their wishes and feelings about where they want to spend their time. Help them to understand that everyone loves them and would like to see them; and try to avoid making them feel guilty for whatever opinion they express. By allowing children to express themselves in this way you are allowing them to understand that their opinions are valued by you both, even though you may tell them that it remains a parental decision rather than theirs. 
8.    Ask the ‘stupid’ questions: The quickest way to revealed the sticking points on both sides this Christmas is to ask. You may think you know all there is to know, but issues that arise will most often driven by each person’s worries and concerns. By continuing to ask each other questions - no matter how ‘stupid’ - you may find it easier to come to a mutually acceptable arrangement.
9.    Make plans in good time: Whilst it is not always possible, do try and sort out Christmas plans ahead of time. Don’t leave it until the last minute, thus making matters more stressful and fraught.
10.  Consider mediation: Some mediators are able to work with families so that the children speak to the mediator as part of the process and that discussion is then fed back to the parents (subject to the agreement of the child).  This can be a very powerful way of ensuring that children’s genuine opinions are heard and can also be an opportunity for some positive messages to be given to the child about his or her parents trying to work together for their benefit.
11.  Keep children at the heart of Christmas: By keeping your children at the heart of this festive season you will have a wonderful time - even if you may not get to see them on the actual day itself. Spend time together in other ways and never forget that Santa delivers to both houses, no matter where they sleep!
12.  Celebrate your uniqueness: When it comes to what works best, there really are no fixed right or wrong answers. There are many other variations on the above – everybody’s family is unique. But as long as the children are at the centre of the decisions parents make at this time of year, you won’t go too far wrong.
No matter how you decide to spend December 25, always remember that although Christmas comes but once a year, your children will benefit all year round from a respectful and co-operative relationship between their parents. 
Brighter Future