How to handle Christmas when you’re living apart from your children

If handled sensitively, seeing your family virtually could be a warm moment

If being bundled up and brought from home to home is going to make the children’s day worse rather than better, perhaps you might consider seeing them on St Stephen’s Day. Photograph: iStock

If being bundled up and brought from home to home is going to make the children’s day worse rather than better, perhaps you might consider seeing them on St Stephen’s Day. Photograph: iStock

 

If you are a father who is not living with his child, and if the relationship with the mother is not an easy one, it’s time to start talking about Christmas.

Arrangements for contact and for giving presents are all easier to work out before the Christmas fever gets going.

Sometimes it’s the mother who is the non-residential parent but the same principles apply.

I would also suggest that making the arrangements now is a sign of respect for the other parent and could help things to move along more smoothly.

I write this with the caveat that we don’t know what the rules will be from a coronavirus point of view, especially as regards visiting other households.

It’s worth remembering that Christmas Day is not the be all and end all of the so-called festive season. Christmas Eve, St Stephen’s Day and other days around that time might all provide opportunities for agreed contact.

If it’s not possible for whatever reason to see the children on Christmas Day, is it possible to be there virtually by Zoom, WhatsApp or something similar? That may seem like a cold comfort but it is a lot better than nothing, and if handled sensitively by all, the occasion could be a warm one. Use the technology with the permission of the parent who is living with the children, though.

Perhaps you can negotiate to be present in the home for some part of Christmas Day or for the children to be present in your home. If being bundled up and brought from home to home is going to make the children’s day worse rather than better, though, perhaps you might consider seeing them on St Stephen’s Day.

What if the parent of your children has a partner who makes you want to reach for the headache tablets? I think you have to remember you are there for the children and that on this one day you could swallow your possibly quite justified anger for their sake.

Grandparents, uncles and aunts might provide a neutral venue if seeing them in the home they live in is a bad idea.

In a very conflicted situation you may be able to do no more than send a present in the post. If so, then at least that’s something that is in your control to do and, in life, that’s generally what we should focus on.

Is there somebody, a mutual friend perhaps, who might act as a go-between in making Christmas arrangements? By a go-between I don’t mean a solicitor if that can be avoided at all. They are a fine body of men and women, of course, but solicitors’ letters tend to be of the kind that throw gasoline on the fire when what’s really required is a bucket of water.

Why discuss presents? If the mother has decided for good reasons of her own not to give a child some expensive present he or she craves, then you undermine her authority by swooping in with that very present, perhaps sowing the seeds of future conflict. Also, if your children are living with her new partner’s children, I think that getting something for the others might be a good investment for the future.

Most mothers want their children to have contact with their father even when they are in conflict with him. So in most cases, reasonable arrangements can be made for the Christmas season.

If, however, things are so bad that your efforts to have contact with the children are blocked on some flimsy excuse, remember that one day the children will be old enough to make up their own minds.

Of course, in such a situation you may need to look into your legal options but that may be something best left until after Christmas when the emotional atmosphere is less heated.

And make sure to take care of yourself too and to get through what might be an emotionally difficult period in as good a shape as you can.

- 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 (pomorain@yahoo.com)

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