How to keep Christmas merry when you are separated

Christmas can be a minefield for divorced or separated parents. A time when things should be happy and joyful can turn into misery and dispute, if a sensible plan that suits everybody is not in place.

To avoid this, put your children at the heart of any discussion you have about Christmas arrangements: they are the ones who will get caught in the crossfire if you don’t. It is not important how you and your ex-partner feel about each other, but it is crucial that your children know they are loved by both of you. Co-parenting can be a great way of showing this.

If your children are older you can involve them in Christmas conversations. Let them choose some aspects of what will happen, rather than just assuming you know what they want to do.

Planning Christmas events

Once they reach a suitable age, children will want to get both their parents presents (and maybe their grandparents, as well): could each of you plan a day out with the children so they can buy their gifts for the other?

You will also need to think about Christmas trips: who is going to be taking the kids to pantomimes, ice-skating, carol concerts or visiting Santa’s Grotto? Agreement on this beforehand will avoid either parent feeling as though they have been ‘trumped’ by the other one.

Will the children be spending Christmas Eve and the day itself with one parent, and then going to the other parent for Boxing Day? Or could Christmas morning be spent at one house, before they go to the other for a mid-afternoon lunch? This might be something which is alternated each year, so it is important to have arrangements that both parents feel comfortable with.

If you and your ex-partner are on amicable terms it may be possible for you to have a joint Christmas or, if that feels a bit too challenging, you could invite mutual friends and family to join you all. This might help avoid any friction, or awkward silences.

Present wars

Buying Christmas presents can become a competitive event between separated parents. Here are our top three tips to avoid this:

  • Try to agree on a maximum present spend per child…and stick to it. Include grandparents in the present buying agreement
  • Try to confer on what you are both buying for each child, to ensure there’s no duplication or ‘one-upmanship’
  • Collaborate on expensive items, such as phones, laptops, games consoles etc. (The label that says ‘Love from Mum and Dad’ is worth its weight in gold!)

Once Christmas is over, you may have further activities, or even a holiday, planned before the new year and, again, it is important that both parties know and agree to the schedule, rather than one parent presenting them as a fait accompli.

In all circumstances, good communication between parents is key.

All of this advice will help keep friction over the festive period to a minimum. When one or both parents have new partners, things can get particularly complicated. If amicable discussions are tricky, a mediator will help keep things cool.

If you need help with any of the issues mentioned, please get in touch:

Find other lifestyle articles here.

Gina Nicolas, EJ Coombs Solicitors

Share this article