We know from our experience as family mediators that when there is conflict between separated parents about their child’s access to both of them it is difficult and stressful for all family members. However, the Christmas period can magnify the anxiety and the conflict. Sorting out how the children spend time with both sides of the family is more likely than not going to add to that stress.
If you are recently separated or experiencing new communication challenges with your child’s other parent, consider how you may begin to work on better communication that may assist your co-parenting in advance of the holiday period. There is an educative factor for your children, when they witness adults trying to manage conflict, perhaps engaging with mediation and finding solutions….a good life skill to learn. It is helpful to be cognisant of the rights of the child under UNCRC, to a safe and healthy relationship with both parents. Finding an agreed way forward is in the best interests of your children.
Try to focus over the next few weeks on reassuring your children (using age-appropriate language) that you will both be agreeing how they share time between you. If not meeting in person to discuss, consider a phone call, but remain calm, and be conscious of your tone of voice. Avoid making demands and request a time to discuss the plans for the children over the holidays. Social media and text/WhatsApp are usually not productive modes for communicating – there is too much potential for words or tone to be misconstrued, therefore unintentionally raising the level of conflict and emotional tension.
In the blended family there are also others to consider, such as half siblings and stepparents, so this will take some considered management and patience to ensure the shared parenting calendar is going to work for both families. Consider how grandparents may assist, keep the focus on working towards facilitating your children benefiting from time with both families – they will thank you when they are adults!
One of the common themes that runs through conversations with FMNI is that communication has settled, and the child is moving happily between two homes until a special occasion loom on the horizon. Try not to react to a demand on impulse, take time to breathe, to consider all options, and most importantly, try and put yourself in the other parent’s position or in your child’s position, how would you feel? Find and agree space for calm, focused conversations, remaining focused on discussions around what is best for your child (consider your child’s relationship with grandparents /wider family). If you all live in the same area, can you the split the day between you both? Or can you have another ‘Christmas day’ celebration when the child returns home from other parents’ home? Can ‘facetime’ or ‘Zoom/Skype’, help keep your child in contact with both parents at some agreed point in the day?
Parenting apart can be challenging to begin with, we all appreciate that, but many parents are doing it very well! It’s about being creative and flexible in your thinking to help manage any conflict and never having discussions about or with the other parent, with children present.
You will be aware that children of different ages have different needs so factor this into planning travel, pick-ups, times, locations, this can be fraught with tension. When you have negotiated detailed arrangements, stick to them. But be conscious that life happens, unforeseen situations can arise for all of us. Remember to be flexible around work rotas and have a ‘plan B’, if illness, travel disruption, work demands or another issue delays arrival at agreed location. Communication is key to ensuring that conflict is minimised, and your child is not impacted by your irritation or anxiety over changed plans.
Most separated parents do work hard at parenting apart and have maintained a civilised, business-like relationship post relationship breakdown. But bumps along the road as children grow and have varied interests and needs can throw parents off course. This is normal, all relationships can be tested. The family calendar for shared parenting, (there are various types available on-line) can be the lifeline for those parents sharing the care of their children. This is an excellent resource that helps focus all concerned on the coming year. If children are school age, use the school calendars to help you both devise your bespoke calendar. Remember also the children may have thoughts on this as they grow and have their own voice. Do not take this personally…it happens in all families that when children grow up, they may have other interests that become more of a priority. Just be there for them.
Consider checking with the other parent if mediation is feasible, to assist with managing conflict and communication, an impartial family mediator may help maintain the focus on the current needs of your children and help you generate options that may help the child share time with both parents. Remember, regardless of the adult relationship breakdown, your child love’s and need both of you in their lives.
Check out all of the information on family mediation services and our blogs, FAQ’s, Podcasts across our website.
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Here is some recommended reading for separated parents:
- ‘Parenting Apart’ by Christina McGhee;
- ‘Help your children cope with your divorce’ by Paula Hall; ‘
- ‘The Guide for Separated Parents: putting your children first ’ by Karen & Nick Woodall.
- ‘The Suitcase Kid’ by Jacqueline Wilson