For separated parents special family occasions may be difficult or unsettling and result in conflict, especially if it falls on a weekend when the other parent is due to have the children
Here are some helpful suggestions from Family Mediation NI to help former couples, who will always be parents, to manage future family occasions by agreeing a parenting plan to cover these special days in the calendar:
Be flexible and prepare to adapt
When parents separate, they may not necessarily be able to spend special dedicated days with their children, if their agreed parenting plan doesn’t allow for any flexibility and the day falls on the other parent’s weekend with the children. The same can be said for birthdays, Christmas, Easter, family weddings or any other date when, typically, a family would have come together to celebrate. It’s therefore in the best interests of both parents to agree some flexibility that will ultimately benefit everyone – and in particular the children!
However it is important to remember that what works one year, might not necessarily work in years to come, so be prepared to adapt to current circumstances.
Even if it’s difficult to accept, your children may go on to form a strong bond with the other parents’ new partner. Also, as children grow their needs change and the things they liked doing when they were five years old will be different when they are eight and so on – needs will continue to change. FMNI regularly receives inquiries from families whose circumstances have changed since their parenting plan was originally put in place and family mediation can help them navigate these changes and reach a solution that meets everyone’s needs.
Be reasonable in your negotiations
Rather than demanding the whole weekend at a special time, you may find your former partner is actually open to an hour or so to enjoy a special lunch or tea.
Likewise, remember the grandparents on the other side of the family and how you can accommodate their needs too. For example, if the children are close to their grandparents or cousins, they may also want to see them, so it is worth incorporating that into what you agree.
Be genuine about each request
If you are going to request a change to the agreed parenting schedule, make sure it’s something you really do want and that will be beneficial to your children. Often, we work with parents who think their former partner has a habit of changing dates just to start an argument. Planning well in advance and being genuine about each request will help to keep things amicable. Remember, it might be you who requests a change in arrangements in the future; and ultimately, your children learn by example and will appreciate their parents trying to accommodate all their needs.
Be prepared to talk
If you and your former partner are finding it difficult to talk to each other, then you may want to consider family mediation. Family Mediation is a practical process where a trained independent mediator helps you work out arrangements concerning your children, and/or family finance.
The mediator is there to help you work through disagreements and find solutions that work for your children. Even if you already have an informal agreement or a contact order in place, you can still use mediation to discuss outstanding issues or aspects of parenting that are causing conflict and that may include special occasions and flexibility on key dates.
Put the children first
Most importantly – everything you agree with the other parent should be in the very best interests of your children. You might be angry or upset with your former partner but try and keep parenting out of the adult sphere. If your children want to see stepparents or Grandparents consider the impact it will have on them if you cannot find compromise and consider the impact, long-term on your relationship with the children.
FMNI’s professional mediators are highly skilled with experience in helping families create bespoke, long-term solutions that work well for their particular circumstances. Our mediators can help you turn arguments into agreements that work for all. Find out more about our services here.