Christmas can be tricky. It's supposed to be a time for celebration, but sometimes it's not clear exactly who you'll be celebrating with.
It can be a question for any family, and tends to get especially complex where children's parents live separately. Do you all get together for the day ? Do the children have two Christmas dinners ? Do you alternate each year ? There is no set formula of rules for how it should be. The important thing is to create Christmas experiences that children can enjoy with their families.
It's not just about children having fun. It's about having good times in a family context. It's about sharing celebrations with important family members. Not everyone has to be there every time. But over time most children will enjoy the chance to have close, happy occasions with each parent. They will also enjoy feeling welcomed by their grandparents and other relatives on both sides of their families.
For many separated parents organising Christmas is just another part of their ongoing strategy for co-operating around their children's care and needs. They are used to putting their children first during the year and Christmas is just one more time when they do this.
For others, Christmas will be more difficult. For instance, if your separation is still raw you may not have settled into a comfortable pattern of trust around what you do. Occasions like Christmas tend to reflect what access and contact with shared children is like during the rest of the year.
If making arrangements about Christmas feels difficult it might be useful to seek some support. Relationships Aotearoa can help you to reach agreement over who spends Christmas with whom. Mediation is an ideal process for finding shared solutions. It can also produce a written plan for everyone to see, including your children.
Involving children in some discussions about Christmas arrangements may be a really good idea. Its important that they don't feel they are being asked to choose between their parents, or to feel responsible for a parent who may be left to spend Christmas alone without them. So the timing of visits and the length of stay might be more useful discussions than questions like who do you want to spend Christmas with this year ?
Where Christmas visits involve staying out of town it becomes important to take into account the arrangements that children want to make for their own lives, the friends and activities that are significant to them. The older they get, the more of an issue this is likely to become.
It might help if you think of Christmas as a season, rather than just one day. You can send cards and emails and arrange good times for phone calls to the people who matter to your children. You can arrange pre-Christmas and New Year get-togethers with important extended family members that the children won't get to see on Christmas Day.
Make arrangements that are manageable for Christmas Day. Be realistic about how much travel your children can happily cope with, and how many huge Christmas dinners they can eat.
The earlier you get onto the planning, the more time you have to work out creative plans that satisfy your children. If you can tell relatives what you've decided to do well in advance, then you're less likely to have to deal with competing invitations.
If it's all too late for you this year, and your Christmas Day is looking overstuffed, make some decisions now about what you want to do for next year. Talk with your family about what activities would give you all the sense of relaxation and celebration that Christmas always seems to promise. Use that as the starting point for your Christmas planning for next year.
If you would like to talk to a counsellor about how to make Christmas enjoyable for everyone in your family you can contact Relationships Aotearoa on 0800 735 283.