When parents are separated or divorced Christmas can be a minefield.  Of course, the children want Mum and Dad together, even if, on another level, they know that both parents were unhappy before the split.

A time when everything should be happy and joyful can turn into misery and dispute without a sensible plan.  If that happens the kids are the ones that get caught in the crossfire, so a discussion with the children at the heart of it will help to make everyone’s Christmas a good one.

It’s not important how you feel about each other, but is absolutely vital that your children know that they are loved by both parents.  Co-parenting can be a great way of showing this.

If your children are older you could ask them what they would like to happen, rather than assuming you know.

Before Christmas – once they get to a certain age children will want to buy both parents presents (and maybe grandparents too).  Could each parent plan a day out that will allow the children to buy presents for the other?

Who will take the children to events like a pantomime, ice-skating at the local rink, to a carol concert, or to visit Santa Claus?  Agreement on this avoids any feelings that one parent has been ‘trumped’ by the other.  Good communication is key.

During Christmas: Will the children spend Christmas Eve/Day with one parent and Boxing Day with the other?  Perhaps Christmas morning could be spent with one parent and then go to the other parent for a late Christmas lunch (maybe mid-afternoon).  Often the arrangements are alternated, so it is important that something is agreed which both parents are happy with.

In an ideal situation where both parents can be amicable, it may even be possible to have a joint Christmas.  If spending the day with just your estranged partner and your children might be a challenge, consider bringing other people into the mix to give you both others to talk to.  This might be joint friends or people from both sides of your family.  This could help to avoid awkward silences and friction between Mum and Dad.

After Christmas:  With plenty of activities between Christmas and New Year and, perhaps, a holiday planned, it’s important that everyone knows and agrees the plans rather than one party presenting them as a fait accompli.

The war of the presents

Christmas presents can become a competitive event.  To avoid this here are our top three tips:

  1. Try to agree a maximum present spend per child – and stick to it. Include grandparents in the present buying agreement.
  2. Try to agree what you are each buying for the children, to avoid duplication and ‘one upmanship’.
  3. Collaborate on really expensive items – like laptops, phones, games consoles, etc. – the label that says ‘with love from Mum and Dad is worth its weight in gold!

All of these 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 you find an amicable discussion is difficult, you may find a mediator will help keep things cool. Our expert mediation team will always be happy to help you work together to make your kid’s Christmas a really good one.