Don’t live with your kids? Here’s how to make Christmas a happy time for everyone

Make plans now and avoid rows over where you, and your children, will spend the day

Christmas is approaching fast and with it the need, if you’re a non-resident parent, to make plans for your involvement with the children at that time.

My working assumption is that if you are not living with your children, you are their father and they live with their mother. The same considerations apply, though, when the roles are reversed.

If you have a very good working relationship with the mother of your children, all this is much easier to organise.

That doesn’t mean you won’t both run into issues, though, so read on.

It’s better to address these issues now rather than the day before Christmas Eve. The closer you get to the emotional heights of Christmas, the harder it is to have a cool and calm conversation about anything. This is especially so if the relationship with the other parent is conflicted.

It’s important that these conversations take place in the background, in other words, not in front of the children. It doesn’t make it a very happy Christmas for them if they know they are being fought over and that while they are with one parent, the other parent is unhappy about it.

The question of where the children will be – or rather where you will be – on Christmas Day can be a thorny one. Probably, they will want to be in the house they live in and the smaller ones will assume that this is where Santa will come with their presents.

Would it work for everyone if you went to their home for a couple of hours, maybe while presents are being opened? Would it work for them to come to your home for a couple of hours?

What would be so terrible about seeing them on Christmas Eve or St Stephen’s Day instead?

What if the mother has a partner or even a husband and you hate his guts? And what if he hates yours? Can you call a ceasefire for a few hours? The last thing the kids need is an ‘atmosphere’ on Christmas Day.

The declaration by either side that “I will not have that (insert unprintable word) anywhere near my children” is generally not helpful in these situations.

If you can’t be in the same home, whether hers or yours, could grandparents or an aunt or uncle act as host? Children are generally keen to seen grandparents (and their presents) at Christmas anyway and vice versa.

Create conflict

When it comes to presents, I think is important not to try to upstage the mother. Buying gizmos that she doesn’t want the children to have, and has told them they won’t get, is just going to create conflict. She, after all, is the one who has to manage them most.

And if your children live in a “blended” family, consider buying something for the children of the other parent also. Look on it as an investment in your own children’s future relationships.

Also, be sensitive to the possibility that your children have events and parties that they want to go to and that these might interfere with them coming to you at a particular time. All these things can be accommodated with goodwill on both sides

Every parent I’ve personally come across who lives with the children but not with the father of the child is anxious for the father to see them at Christmas. But I have no doubt that some don’t cooperate and that in these cases fathers have to endure the considerable pain of going through Christmas without meeting their children.

In that case, I suggest you send the children a card and a present whether or not you suspect that these won’t be given to them. If there is anybody who you both know and trust and who can act as a go-between, perhaps that would help. Remember, Christmas is a very short period of time and if the worst comes to the worst, you can aim to get through it in good shape.

Your children will soon enough get to the age at which they make their own choices.

– Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (