It’s not how anyone plans on spending their Christmas holidays, but according to Jennifer Hetherington, a specialist family lawyer and mediator with Hetherington Family Law, Christmas, Separated Parents & Kids dealing with family fallouts is more common than you’d think.
“I see many families in crisis leading up to Christmas and in the New Year,” explains Jennifer, who is an award winning Brisbane-based family law specialist and founder of Hetherington Family Law. “Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year for family lawyers as separated parents try to sort out divorces and custody issues while at the same time trying to minimise trauma on the children.
“But sometimes, and Christmas can be the worst time, children will play the parents off against one another for all manner of advantages – and parental discipline can go out the window,” Jennifer warns.
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Jennifer said “now, more than at any other time of the year, separated parents need to put any differences aside and be unified in dealing with child discipline.”
Here are her top tips for surviving the holidays as a separated parent
- Parental rules need to apply at all times –don’t let the children control you
- Back the other parent. Don’t let the kids play you off against each other
- Parents often have different parenting styles. Try to put aside your differences and recognise that just because it is not the way you would do it, doesn’t necessarily mean it is the wrong way to do it
- Aim for structure and routine in the children’s lives
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“Parental rules are going to be tested in the lead up to Christmas and over the holidays, especially if children try to guilt mum or dad into buying them expensive gifts or running to one parent if the other refuses their demands.
“Many parents worry about how to manage Christmas Day – especially that first one.
“There are a lot of ways that parents divide Christmas but it really is a time you have to try to set aside your own needs, and think what is best for the kids. Some families do well with sharing Christmas Day with the children spending half the day with each parent. But if you have a terrible relationship with your ex, is a changeover on Christmas Day going to ruin Christmas for your kids? Some people choose to modify Christmas and have a ‘European Christmas’ where the children open presents on Christmas Eve with one parent so they can have the whole day with the other. You can alternate this each year, so the kids get to experience it with both. Show me a kid who doesn’t want to be able to open their presents on Christmas Eve!
“We know that when parents’ divorce, children do best when the communication between parents is high and conflict levels are low. If you are in conflict with your ex, even over small issues, consider mediation or family dispute resolution to try to work out those issues before they become insurmountable and impact on the kids.”