DR. Angharad Rudkin – Clinical Child Psychologist
“Your first Christmas as separated parents – how to make it work for the kids and for you!”. Here is some advice which will help you get through it, and even have a good time.
This is the first Christmas since my partner and I separated. Should I try to keep everything the same for the kids or just do something completely different?
It is likely that you and your children have experienced a huge number of changes since your split-up. Christmas is a time of high expectations – we all expect to have a happy, warm, loving Christmas and sadly this isn’t always the case. The important thing for this, your first Christmas, is just to get through it as a family and to keep your expectations realistic. Children thrive on routine and predictability so it is important to maintain some elements from your last Christmases. So, for example, if you always opened the presents under the tree first, then had lunch, a walk and watched a film, then try to keep these basic elements the same. Whether you do that in your home, at your parents, a friend’s house or even abroad is then up to you, but keeping that structure to the day will ensure that your children will have a Christmas that has some familiarity and therefore certainty to it. This Christmas will be different, but being open with your children about this and allowing them to chat to you about their feelings around Christmas will mean that you can get through it together, and hopefully enjoy it.
My ex-partner and I recently split and now live quite some distance apart. We both want our children to spend Christmas at ours, but of course due to the distance it has to be one or the other. We keep arguing about it and cannot seem to come to a compromise. Should we ask the children to choose?
It is natural as a parent to want to involve your child in decision making. While this doesn’t guarantee that you will do everything they ask, it does show that you respect their views. However, research shows that one of the most unhelpful things to do during a separation is to involve the children in arguments. Asking them to take sides and make hard decisions will only increase their feelings of sadness and confusion. So, the basic answer to this questions is no and for you and your partner to try and come to some agreement yourselves (e.g. dividing Christmas so that they spend Christmas Eve with one of you and Christmas Day with another; or if you live a long way from one another, having a plan that they will spend alternate Christmases with you, starting off with the home where they spend the majority of their time). You can use mediation services or another person outside of the system to help you come up with an arrangement which is acceptable to both of you. What is important is that wherever the children spend their Christmas, they are doing it knowing that both mummy and daddy are going to be ok and are happy with the decision. I know this may be asking a lot, but given that Christmas is such a magical time for children, it is best to protect them from your disputes as much as you can. There is a good chance that you and your partner still have feelings of anger towards one another, but the sooner you can reach a position of being able to chat together about the children in a reasonable way, the sooner you and your children will be able to pick up the pieces and move on.
My partner and I have just split up. My son told me the other day that he was looking forward to Christmas as it meant that he would get two sets of presents. Does that mean he doesn’t understand what has happened and doesn’t care?
One of the few benefits of having parents who are separated is that children have two of everything – bedrooms, toys and sets of presents! Children find it easier to focus on concrete things such as possessions and money rather than feelings such as helplessness and confusion. So, no, it’s not that your son is shallow, materialistic or lacks understanding of the situation. He is thinking in a way that helps him to feel better, and which gives him something to look forward to during a difficult time.
Let your son know that you understand that it is a difficult situation for all of you and that you’re pleased he is looking forward to Christmas. Explore how Christmas can mean a lot of different things – presents, but also time together watching a favourite film or going for a nice walk. Make sure that you and your ex-partner do not attempt to ‘buy’ your child’s love and support, but instead talk together about fair and consistent ways of being with him. Also, try not to engage in a ‘battle of buying’, trying to outdo one another with bigger and more expensive presents. At the end of the day, your child just wants your time, attention and love, so making sure they get this, as well as the odd present of course, means that they will grow up learning to value feelings as well as material goods.
Dr Angharad Rudkin is a Chartered Clinical Child Psychologist with over 10 years of experience working with children and families. She trained in Clinical Psychology in Oxford and now works in the NHS and privately. Dr Rudkin works with children of all ages and specialises in problems such as adolescent anxiety, depression, and issues stemming from bereavement, divorce and other life changing events. Through her work in the NHS, as a private clinical psychologist, as a trainer in clinical psychology and mental health, as well as a consultant to the media she offers advice and support that is both relevant and clear and based on strong scientific research. Having studied psychology for so long, she knows that it can make a big difference to people’s lives as long as ideas are given clearly and in a way that is tailored to each individual person. Please feel free to contact Angharad direct at: www.greatvine.com/angharad_rudkin