One-parent households make up roughly a quarter to a third of households in Ireland. Those households in which there are children will, around now, be considering Christmas arrangements in terms of the involvement of the non-resident parent.
Most probably already have an established routine that works for them at this time of year. For some, being an absent parent is a new experience and for others, the attempt to make Christmas arrangements brings up painful feelings and the possibility of conflict.
Either way, these arrangements shouldn’t be left to the last minute. There will be enough emotion in the air as Christmas Day looms without adding delicate negotiations, which also may bring up past hurts. Some solicitors would say that when the relationship is very conflicted, talking about Christmas should happen as early as September. So if you haven’t yet had the conversation, it’s now absolutely time to get down to it. Whether you are the resident or non-resident parent, it’s essential to try to discuss the matter in a calm atmosphere.
I say “try” because a calm atmosphere isn’t always possible, especially when people are hurting. If you are in a position to meet the other parent over a coffee, say, then both bearing in mind that making Christmas a good experience for your children is what you have in common will help you arrive at a solution. It might not be a perfect solution, but what you can aim for is something that’s workable.
Sometimes, though, the situation is such that the talking is done in writing, which probably means by text or WhatsApp. In this regard, I was struck by a point in an article by Cork solicitor Anne O’Neill on her familylawireland website. “I always say to my clients, whether they are writing a text or a letter, that they should not write anything they could not imagine a judge reading or they would not want a judge reading.” The first judge reading it will be the parent who receives it and it’s worth remember the counselling adage that “the message sent is the message received”, which means what counts isn’t what you said but what the other person thinks you said. So read these messages twice before sending and maybe ask a sensible friend to read them too.
O’Neill also wisely advises “it is never helpful in this type of conversation to talk about rights. No matter how tempting, do not approach this from a rights perspective”. I’ve often said when writing about this topic that in my experience most mothers want the fathers – who in most cases, though not all, are the non-resident parents – to have an involvement with the children at Christmas, even when the relationship is very conflicted. I know that a small minority of mothers use access as a way to get back at the father – in such a case perhaps a mutual friend could act as mediator? Or perhaps you could send a present to the children even if you don’t get to be with them?
“If both parents are not with their children throughout Christmas Day, is it possible for both parents to be with them when they open their presents, even via video call?” asks Treoir, the organisation for unmarried parents, on its website. “If this is not an option, then consider when and where the other parent will give the children their presents. These may be difficult issues to negotiate but ignoring them until the last-minute may cause problems.
“If it is not possible for a parent to spend time with their child in person, they can send cards and presents in the post and/or talk to them on the phone, facetime, WhatsApp, or zoom.”
Christmas Day is not the “be all and end all” of everything.
Still, for the sake of children, who will usually want predictability as to when they will see the other parent at this time, apply some of the season’s goodwill and work something out.
– Padraig O’Morain (Instagram, Twitter: @padraigomorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His books include Kindfulness – a guide to self compassion; his daily mindfulness reminder is available free by email (email@example.com).