Co-parenting at Christmas

Christmas 2020

As Christmas approaches with the added uncertainties of extra restrictions and the world in chaos, we are very aware of what a difficult time this can be for separated families.

This year will be a little different than other years and separated parents may well be feeling more of a sense of isolation than they have in other years.  With less ability to meet up with friends and family, feelings around not having the children, will be heightened this year.  Clients that we work with us in mediation describe the feelings of loss of not being together with children and as a family.  If this is your first Christmas apart, focus on the fact that it is the last time, that it will be the first time – next year will feel a little easier.  It can be useful to plan some nice things to do, this year Zoom meet ups, walks in the park or country side, a list of films you have been meaning to see, planning and cooking a new recipe….

Planning is key with regards arrangements for the children across the Christmas holidays.  If you can sit down with your ex, or pick the phone up and have a discussion around what would work best for the children and the two of you in this period, then this would be ideal.  In mediation we help clients around communication and usefulness of aiming for a polite business like style of interacting.  Rather than dictating to each other, invite suggestions, negotiate and try to keep emotional language out.  Try and focus on each having quality down time with the kids, children often express preferring this as oppose to carving up the important days and feeling hurried or travelling back and forth.  What will work for each family will be different and need discussion. Children of all ages welcome the idea of two Christmases and for younger children, that Father Christmas visits children who have two homes, twice!

Clients in mediation work together in organizing the Christmas and New Year period and they all do different things.  Common for separated couples is the idea of alternating Christmas and New Year on a year by year basis.  Or, switching Christmas eve and Christmas Day one year, for Boxing Day and some time after, the following year.  What is key in all of this, is the way in which the two of you work together in organizing a set of arrangements that work for you and the children.  If you are both on board and sharing positive messages with the children, then they will have a great time and feel free to relax and enjoy this time with each of you.

The giving of presents can be another area that can cause issues to arise.  The first year apart, some couples choose to meet on Christmas morning and share in the purchasing and opening of presents with children.  Whilst this is an understandable desire, it is important to be mindful of your ability to be amicable and make this a positive experience for the children.  If you are wishing to buy joint presents, then this needs discussion and planning. If you are buying your own presents then it can be useful to let the other know what you are planning to get and again to work together around this.  A ten year old I saw in mediation some time ago, shortly after Christmas, had been bought the same longed for present by both parents.  They had fallen out heavily about this and he had witnessed their anger towards each other.  His words, “I wish I hadn’t got any presents at all this year – I haven’t even looked at them”.

We as mediators do recognise the emotional and stressful time that Christmas can bring for parents and children with two homes. Make sure you take time for yourselves and work together as best you can to prioritise making the time you each have with the children, as stress free and relaxed as possible.  Children won’t remember how many days or hours they spent where, or who got them which present – they will focus on close family time with each of you.

We know it takes bravery and courage to co-parent positively and we also know that your children will thrive because of this.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2021.


Jane Kerr

Accredited Family Mediator and Child Inclusive Consultant

Wells Family Mediation