Written by Caroline Meyer

Christmas can be an especially difficult time for separated families. Many divorced parents have problems devising a schedule that works for both sets of parents. This is especially true where there is animosity between the ex-partners. This is also a big issue when one or both parents are not reliable when it comes to sticking to arrangements.  Some may also feel that the child will be let down if they are not with them on Christmas day. This is quite often the case in families that are newly divorced or separated. 


This happens quite often where the parents have agreed on a schedule to share time with the children over Christmas and then one parent changes their mind at the last minute. This may be unintentional or completely intentional, but at the end of the day, the other parent is left to scramble and still try and have a great festive season with the children. Communication is key. Unless there is a dire emergency, plans should be made ahead of time and parents should be responsible enough to stick to the arrangements that are made. Don’t leave things to the last minute. Even if there is animosity between the parents, the children should not be made to suffer for this. Creating an expectation and then letting the child down can be very distressing for your child. Being vindictive towards an ex should not form part of your thoughts when arranging to spend time with your child over Christmas. Make sure that you have plans in place in the event of an emergency and discuss this with your ex-partner as well. If you feel you may not be able to meet your commitment, let the other party know as far ahead of time as possible to prevent distressing the child.


One of the best solutions is to split the holidays and alternate on a yearly basis. Have one parent celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the child and the other gets the day after Christmas and New Year. The next year it will be the other parents turn for Christmas Day. This is a fair and equitable way to ensure that both parents get to spend some time with the kids over the holidays and the expectation for the following year is set in place a year in advance.  Long term planning can be laid out in writing so each parent is aware of their responsibilities and commitments when it comes to spending time with the children. This can actually be done for the entire year if preferred, so each parent always knows when they will have the child with them. Arguing about it will generally just create more animosity and no resolution will be found. Agreeing to a written schedule is a good way to ensure no one can say “I forgot” and it is laid out in black and white as opposed to being a verbal agreement.


There is no such thing as a perfect Christmas and trying to compete with an ex over the “best” Christmas will only lead to heartache for the child. Have your own traditions and give your child attention, this is the best way to ensure a great Christmas without negativity or self-doubt about how “good” your Christmas celebrations are in comparison to your ex-partner.  For many parents there may be financial constraints as well, so trying to compete may just make the holiday unpleasant and disheartening. For most kids, as long as Santa knows where to drop off their presents and they get to spend quality time with family, they tend to be quite happy. Especially for younger children, it is not about elaborate decorations or overflowing tables, it is about having fun and being loved. Take the pressure off yourself by doing the best you can without competing with anyone else. For the days when your children are not with you over the festive season, make plans to pamper yourself, spend time with friends and family and not allow yourself to get down or depressed. 


When your children are old enough to understand the question, ask them where they want to spend Christmas. Make sure this is not done in a judgemental way and that the child does not feel pressured to choose between their parents. Let them speak freely and openly and be prepared to accept that they may prefer to spend the day with the other parent.  The children need to know that they are loved by both parents regardless and that they are free to love both parents equally even if the parents no longer love each other. The child should never feel like they are in a tug-of-war between the parents.


Besides co-ordinating the schedule, you may also want to co-ordinate the gift giving. Discuss which parent will be giving which gift to avoid duplication or one parent giving all the gifts the child wants and the other one being left to buy socks and soap for Christmas. It is important to maintain the usual rules and regulations as far as possible while in both homes to keep discipline unambiguous. Discuss issues such as bedtimes, pocket money and any specific issues such as allergy control and so forth. Remember that this is about your child and any animosity to feel towards your partner should be put aside so that your child can enjoy a pleasant and happy Christmas. Do send along a gift for your partner (from your child) so that they have something to give on the day as well.