Sometimes faking happiness is an act of parental love
Parents can turn Christmas Day into a battlefield or a pleasant experience for their child
If parents can figure out an arrangement they are both happy with, then the child will be happy with it
Christmas is on the way and for separated parents it’s time to work out arrangements about the children.
While all sorts of arrangements are possible – stay with one parent on Christmas Day and the other on the following day; be collected by one parent half way through Christmas Day; Christmas with one parent, New Year with the other etc – one consideration should loom large: what is best for the child?
Observing people get into a tussle over who should have the child and when, you sometimes wonder if it’s all about the needs of the child or the emotional needs of the parent.
The child isn’t actually going to apply a stopwatch to work out if enough time has been spent with each parent
I am not discounting the emotional needs of parents in saying this. Each parent’s need to be with the child for part of Christmas should be respected – but preferably not in a way that turns the child into a prize to be fought over.
It seems to me that if parents can figure out an arrangement they are both happy with, then the child will be happy with it. The child isn’t actually going to apply a stopwatch to work out if enough time has been spent with each parent.
I would go further and say that so long as the child just thinks the parents are happy with the Christmas arrangements, then the child will be happy with them.
Sometimes faking happiness is an act of love.
A former child of separated parents, Suzanne Jannese, has written on the Babble website about the tension of knowing she was being competed over by her parents. One year she even ate two Christmas dinners to keep everyone happy. “I felt sick and bloated, but, hey, anything to keep the peace,” she writes.
She used to escape to a neighbour’s house every Christmas Eve to have a cry. “Funny enough, no one ever asked me what I wanted.”
Christmas Day is one day. That’s what it is – 24 hours. Mothers and fathers can turn this 24 hours into a battlefield or into a pleasant experience for the child.
A few tips to help turn Christmas into a pleasant experience for your child:
First: start talking to your ex about it now, before the emotionality of the Christmas season makes it harder to do. I think this is especially important if you find it difficult to agree on arrangements.
Second: if both parents can’t see the child on Christmas Day, this isn’t the end of the world. There’s Christmas Eve. There’s St Stephens’s Day.
Third: does your ex have a partner who is going to be around for Christmas? To make things easier for the child I think you need to be able to put up with this for one day. You might hate their guts, but try to keep the battle away from the child.
Fourth: when getting advice from friends and colleagues make a distinction between those who give you sober, considered advice and the “If I was you I wouldn’t stand for that” brigade. Listen to the sober ones.
Fifth: if you can’t bring the child to your home and if you can’t be in the child’s home, can you both go to their grandparents’ home? Kids usually love being with their grandparents.
Sixth: if there are other children living with your child as in a “blended” family consider including the other children in presents – that could be good for your child’s relationships with them in the future.
Seventh: if things are so bad there’s no chance of seeing the child at all, try sending a present and card anyway. One day, he or she will be older and able to make a choice to see you.
Above all, remember my earlier point: Christmas is, indeed, partially about your needs but mostly it is about your child’s needs so put them first. If you don’t know what they are, try asking.
And even if you are crying inside, look happy in front of the child.
It’s only for a day.
Padraig O’Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.