Christmas can be the most wonderful time of the year, or the hardest. And for many, it comes down to family. For this reason, co-parenting at Christmas can be the most fiddly festivities of all.
This might be your first Christmas as a co-parent, in which case, don’t panic! Honestly, it is possible to enjoy the holidays when working through the joys of shared care. Yes, it might be rocky to start, but as the family get used to their new-style festive season, it will get easier.
Perhaps you’ve been co-parenting at Christmas for a while and you haven’t quite mastered it. Circumstances change. Your ex might have a new partner, or maybe you have. One of you might have moved so the logistics are harder. Plus, the kids are growing and have different needs each year. What worked last year for your yuletide celebrations, might not work next.
Yet, there are a few hard and fast rules you can apply to having a successful, happy Christmas as a co-parent. Of course, if your ex isn’t playing by them, it is extra challenging.
See our suggestions below which we hope will bring peace and goodwill to your separated family this Christmas.
Further reading: 7 Advent calendars for kids who live between two homes.
Co-parenting at Christmas: How to make it work
Plan as far in advance as possible
As women, we are planners! And there is no better time to hone your planning skills than at Christmas. Everybody, kids included, like to know what’s happening so they know where they stand and what to look forward to.
If you and your ex have parenting orders in place this will save a lot of time and stress. However, even with parenting orders, you or your ex might like to request a change. Working through plans early leaves time to resolve conflict, without too much pressure.
Note: Family lawyers and family courts are extremely busy on the lead-up to Christmas, so if your plans need family law support, you will have to plan even earlier.
Co-parenting communication at Christmas
So, these plans we are talking about … you have to reach an agreement with your ex over them. Perhaps easier said than done. Again, if you have parenting orders, you can breathe a sigh of relief because the major decisions are taken out of your hands.
However, if you are starting from scratch you must play this carefully. You will already know which is the most successful form of communication between you and your ex, so stick to that. And always show him that you are considering his needs and wants at Christmas, as well as putting the kids first. Open the conversation passively and amenably, in the hope that he will follow suit, allowing you to reach a straight-forward, fair agreement that works for everyone.
Get plans in writing
Once arrangements are made, make sure you have something in writing to confirm them. This does not necessarily have to be a formal document, an email or text could suffice. Just as long as you have something to refer back to if you or your ex get confused about the arrangements.
It's about the kids
Planning for Christmas is little like planning your initial co-parenting arrangements. It is easy to get carried away and draw battle lines just because he is your ex and that is what you two do.
Christmas is about kids. It is a focal point in their childhood memories.
If your relationship with your ex is not amicable, you may find yourself requesting plans simply because they will have a negative impact on him. If you see this happening, pull yourself up on it. And, if you see him doing it to you, pull him up on it. Use this mantra:
“Kids first every time.”
Send it to your ex if you need to.
Be flexible when co-parenting at Christmas
Flexibility around time at Christmas is key.
Say you are down to have the kids this Christmas Day but your ex has a relation in town for that one day who would love to see the children, could you be accommodating and facilitate them meeting up somehow?
Christmas is a complex time with lots of extended family on both sides to consider, as well as the possibility of your partners or your ex’s partners family. Obviously, you can’t keep everyone happy, but consider what really matters and be adaptable.
How to co-parenting at Christmas (cont.)
Assure your children that Santa know the plans
Young children who live between two homes, especially those who are new to the arrangement, can be understandably confused about their Christmas setup. Most importantly, that Santa won’t know where they are on Christmas Eve.
Keep your children in the loop with the Christmas plans. Let them know who’s house they will be at and when they see each parent. And explain that Santa and his elves will know exactly where they will be, even if there is a last-minute change of plan.
Take care to get the gifts right
If you and your ex are in a good place and your relationship can withstand further communication, it is a good idea to discuss what presents you are getting for your children.
Working together can alleviate any competitive gift-giving or issues that arise from buying the same thing. Plus, if your child is after something particularly pricey, you could pull together and gift it from both of you.
Another thing to consider is whether you will get presents for each other and how the children will gift mum and dad. It is really important for children to have the experience and pleasure of gift-giving, especially to their parents who they love. A simple solution is to set a budget on the price of the gifts, as well as sharing some ideas of what you would like.
Peace to all ... even when you are co-parenting at Christmas
With the crazy consumerism that has overtaken our society, it is easy to forget that Christmas is a time of peace and goodwill. As a co-parent, it can be good opportunity to build bridges and up the stakes for a better co-parenting relationship in the future.
Is it possible you could invite your ex-partner in for a drink and mince pie at handover time? Or buy him a small joke gift to lighten the mood?
It can be hard to take the higher ground, but Christmas is a great time to bring some much-needed peace to your separated family.
Co-parenting at Christmas (cont.)
Coping if you are on your own at Christmas
If you are co-parenting at Christmas, it is likely you will have some Christmas Day’s, or part of them, without your children. For many single mothers, this can be extremely difficult.
If you are spending Christmas day alone, make some plans. Hopefully you will have friends or family nearby who you can enjoy the day with. If not, consider volunteering. There are lots of organisations looking for support on Christmas Day, and it can turn-out to be a really enjoyable experience for you too.
Note: Do not stay home alone and drown your sorrows in mulled wine. Instead, keep in mind that you will be celebrating Christmas with your kids on a different day and you have this to looking forward to.
Have a plan if things go wrong
However hard we try and make Christmas picture-book perfect, things can still go wrong, especially if you are co-parenting at Christmas.
If small issues arise, make a note of them for the following year, so you can prevent them happening again.
Unfortunately, high revelry, daytime drinking and the build-up of pressure can cause Christmas Day disasters, including ruined plans, breach of court orders or just terrible behaviour. Should any of these things happen, do your very best to protect your children (and of course yourself) and do not hesitate to call 000 if you need police support.
Family Lawyers are closed for around two weeks over the Christmas and New Year period, so if you need legal help, keep a note of all the events with dates and time, and book a meeting for as soon as you can.
Congratulate yourself for a job well done
Co-parenting at Christmas can be extremely stressful, but many separated families reach a point where they do it really well and their children are super-happy.
Make sure you don’t take on too much for the Christmas Day celebrations. Instead, try to relax and enjoy the day, with or without your children.
My final words on co-parenting at Christmas
Co-parenting during Christmas can be a complex journey, whether you're just starting or have been at it for a while. To make it work, plan ahead, communicate openly, and put your children first. Clear arrangements, documented in writing, can prevent confusion. Remember, it's about the kids; resist the urge to make it about personal conflicts. Flexibility is key, especially with extended family and changing circumstances.
Assure your children that Santa knows the plans, and involve them in preparations. Collaborate on gift-giving to avoid competition. Use this season as an opportunity to build goodwill with your co-parent.
If you spend part of Christmas alone, make plans with friends, family, or consider volunteering. Have a contingency plan if things go wrong.
Co-parenting at Christmas may be challenging, but with patience and empathy, you can create cherished memories, whether celebrating with or without your children. Congratulate yourself for your dedication to making it a special time for your family.