We’re well into the school holidays and Christmas is just around the corner. Navigating this exciting time of year can be a mission for any family, but it can be especially challenging for separated parents to organise their children’s living arrangements while fitting in with extended family commitments.
So how can separated parents make their children’s lives easier as well as their own?
Put the children first – make plans and avoid confusion
As always, the first and foremost consideration is what is best for the children. This time of the year can be conflicting for children and it’s important that they feel their needs, emotions and concerns have been acknowledged. Plans should include location and handover times and should be in writing to avoid confusion. If a Parenting Plan or Court Order is not available, exchange an email or text message about the specific arrangement.
Create new holiday traditions
Creating new traditions is particularly important for the holiday season to focus the children on the joys of Christmas instead of the tension or stress they may be feeling. It important that they know change is natural and inevitable, but that it is not necessarily a bad thing to share alternate Christmas eve and Christmas Day with each family. Trying a new tradition can help to develop resilience and ability to adapt, which can also be helpful at other times in the year. Maintaining family connections are important.
Even when the relationship has broken down irretrievably, effective communication between parents is the key to organising arrangements for your children. It’s very likely you will not be able to communicate in the same way you used to, so it’s essential for your children that you establish new methods to having effective and productive conversations. If your children are at an appropriate age, explaining the holiday arrangements to them will help ease their own confusion.
Formalise an agreement
A Parenting Plan is a voluntary agreement made between parents in writing, signed and dated. It can be drafted with assistance from a mediator or lawyers. These are more flexible than a court order as they can be changed as often as required, allowing new arrangements to be negotiated between parents. A well drafted Parenting Plan will cover who makes daily decisions and the long-term decisions, the time the children will spend with or communicate with each parent and the time to be spent with each parent on special occasions such as holidays, Christmas and birthdays.
Alternatively, when parents agree to the arrangements for their children, they can Apply to the Family Court of Australia and the Court can make Parenting Orders by consent in the terms of the arrangements agreed to by the parents. A Court order is legally enforceable, and each party remains bound by the arrangements if they are made into Parenting Orders.
If parents cannot come to an agreement, they can go to Court to have a Judge decide Parenting Orders. If you need to do this for the School Holiday period, you need to apply to the court well and truly before holidays commence. In our years of experience, we have found that arrangements are more likely to work in the long term and suit the family’s circumstances when they are agreed between the parents themselves.
Focus on Co-Parenting
Children look to their parents for emotional and physical support. Do not tell your children how upset you are about the family separation or that the other parent could have handled a situation better. Negative comments and including children in adult matters will not make your relationship stronger. Nor will it help children adapt to change. Be supportive of your changed family situation, and if other family/friends are not, privately explain to them that those comments are not helpful, but are hurtful when they are said in front of the children.
Gift giving is difficult and can be expensive for both parents. Communicating about children’s gifts helps to reduce feeling that one parent is “out to win over” the children. Research shows children excel and meet their developmental stages when parents communicate and co-parent respectfully with each other.