Now is the time to talk Christmas if you don’t live with your children

Negotiations can be more difficult and emotional the closer it gets to the big day

Will you see the children on Christmas Day or can you organise a call via Zoom or WhatsApp? Photograph: iStock/Getty Images

Will you see the children on Christmas Day or can you organise a call via Zoom or WhatsApp? Photograph: iStock/Getty Images

 

It is that time of year when non-resident parents need to start talking to the other parent about what sort of involvement they will have with their children at Christmas.

This is a very different year to any other. Lockdowns and levels of restriction have increased both long-term anxiety and short-term stress.

That being so, negotiating Christmas may be tougher than usual in the absence of a good working relationship between parents.

If you find such negotiations stressful, remind yourself that you are seeking to make the so-called festive season as good an experience for all as it can be under the circumstances.

Now is the time to start talking to the other parent, even if you can’t stand them. The closer you get to Christmas the more emotional everything becomes and the harder it gets for either side to keep a cool head.

Will the children be with you for part of Christmas Day?

Will you be in their home for part of the day, Covid-19 allowing?

Will you see them for a couple of hours, maybe when the presents are being opened?

Could you see the children on Christmas Eve instead or on St Stephen’s Day?

Might that be better if the other parent has a live-in partner whom you detest?

Sorting out

These are some of the thorny questions that need sorting out.

If you have been apart for some years or if you have never been together, these routines may be long established.

If this is your first Christmas apart, answering questions like these may be difficult. Remember though that painful negotiations tend to be part of splitting up. Not making them more conflictual than they need to be is probably a good policy.

Moreover, after the high emotions of a first Christmas apart, things may settle down in subsequent years as a more functional relationship develops between the parents. And if you are parents, you’ll always have a relationship of some sort.

If you can’t stand to be in the presence of the other parent or the other parent’s love interest, could you see the children in the home of an aunt, uncle or grandparent, again Covid allowing? Or could you grit your teeth and have a truce with that partner for a few hours?

If you and the other parent can actually talk, I think it’s important to talk about presents. Giving children a phone or PlayStation– or whatever the current desirable objects are – when the other parent has told them they can’t have one sows the seeds of future conflict in my opinion. And buying something for the other children in a “blended” family could be helpful to your children’s relationships with them, as well as being the decent thing to do.

Agreement

If you run up against a stone wall with the residential parent can you do something via Zoom or WhatsApp with the agreement of all?

If nothing works can you ask a mutually respected friend to be a go-between? Or can you send the children a card and a present in the post? That’s something that is in your control to do, whether they are given the present or not. One day, maybe sooner rather than later, the children will be old enough to make their own choices.

It is usually the father who is out of the home and the mother who is raising the children. Most mothers I have talked to about these situations are anxious for the father to see the children at times like Christmas and throughout the year.

Some fathers don’t turn up and some mothers sabotage or refuse contact between the father and children, even to the extent of breaking legal agreements. To these I don’t have a lot to say other than it is the children who will have to bear the pain of this behaviour.

When you take away all the hoopla, Christmas is one day.

If nothing works out for you regarding the children, try not to go over and over the pain in your head but get through those 24 hours 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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