A look at a report recently published, titled ‘Children, divorce and separation in the festive season’ – How the UK’s divorced and separated parents deal with the practical and emotional demands of Christmas.
Christmas can be a challenging time for parents, even if they are blessed with a stable family and strong support network, the stress of the festive season putting added pressure on our time, wallets and emotions.
When families breakdown, the challenges are often more daunting and for parents who find themselves estranged from one another, the festive season often serves to bring many of the more difficult scenarios home to roost.
Questions about who gets to spend time with the children tend to rise to the surface again as both sides of the family seek to impose their own wishes. Meanwhile, both parents will always argue that their actions are ‘in the best interests of the children.’
A report was commissioned by Simpson Millar solicitors with these dynamics in mind – they surveyed 1000 divorced and separated parents across the UK during December 2014, to find out their thoughts and feelings as Christmas approaches.
Asking questions such as ‘how do you divide your children’s time at Christmas?’ and ‘Do your children get two Christmases, one with each parent?’ the results are rather revealing.
The report revealed that Christmas arrangements can be difficult and are often a source of added stress. Parents are always trying their best to make sure that the children have as enjoyable and fulfilling a time at Christmas as possible, while trying to ensure that that their own needs to be parents and desire to spend time with their children is satisfied.
The survey reveals a number of fascinating trends about divorced and separated parents around the country.
It may surprise you to learn that the UK’s mums and dads are a mostly forgiving bunch, almost a quarter (23%) of divorced and separated parents actually spend their Christmas Day together as a family.
The most common approach to Christmas for divorced and separated parents is to take it in turns every year, with 27% saying they alternate who has the children with their ex. East Midlanders were the most likely to do this, with 35% of people in that region taking the kids for Christmas from year to year, as opposed to just 23% of Yorkshire parents.
The first Christmas apart….
For every divorced or separated couple with children the first Christmas apart is possibly going to be one of the most challenging. Loneliness, jealousy over new partners or step siblings involved with your children can cause considerable anxiety, as the report confirmed.
Asking parents what the most challenging moments during that first year were, the overwhelming response nationwide was ‘remaining on speaking terms’.
41% of divorced and separated parents found it difficult to remain on speaking terms at all and were unable to make any arrangements at all.
The influence of new partners or step children can be very hard to cope with, but some parents are more worried about adult influences, 14% of parents said they were ‘concerned about the presence or influence of a new partner’.
Most divorced and separated parents make arrangements ‘in good time’ for Christmas, but 24%
described their approach as ‘cutting it fine’ and waited until December to make plans. A small number of parents (4%) said they left planning until the week before Christmas while East Anglian parents were the most organised with 60% making arrangements between September and November.
Really Doing it for the kids?
In a classic pollster’s trick, to ask the same question in two different ways, the survey managed to find out a little more about how divorced and separated parents actually involve their children in the decision making process.Variables including the age of the children were considered and the results are quite revealing.
The majority of parents tended not to ask their children where they want to spend Christmas with, with only 13% saying they did. However, when asked a similar question worded differently – ‘what
factors do you consider to be the most important when dividing time spent with your children at Christmas?’ a massive 66% of parents claimed that ‘their children’s opinions’ were significant.
Common causes of arguments
The most common thing divorced and separated parents said they argue about at Christmas is the problem of their ex ‘spoiling’ the children. 37% of of mums and dads across the UK said this was the likeliest source of tension and over in Northern Ireland it was an issue for 67%.
As to be expected, there were several other potential flash points.
Spoiling is a major concern for parents in Northern Ireland, with 67% saying this was a common cause
of arguments with their ex partner.
Another common cause of arguments (30%) concerned the presence of a new step-family, 37% of Londoners said they were anxious
about this, but only 17% of people in Wales said the same.
‘Badmouthing the other parent’ was responsible for arguments between 20% of ex couples, a surprisingly low number.
So what next?
Christmas can be a tough time for families after separation – even those parenting together following a less acrimonious separation or divorce or who may have been apart for several years can find it difficult. Much of the problem is the unrealistic expectation society places on Christmas being perfect. Combine this with money worries, logistics of you both wanting Christmas with your kids and the feelings of guilt and loneliness that can be overwhelming and no wonder it can all get a bit much.
Getting through Christmas is an important part of the journey that you and your children have to go through . Even though it can be challenging for all involved there are some things you can do to make it a little easier.
Planning and flexibility
Don’t pretend it can be the same as when you were together – Allow yourself to feel your emotions.
It’s important to put on a brave face for the children, but try and give yourself a bit of time alone to help deal with your feelings and don’t feel guilty about doing so.
Talk about your feelings as a family and maybe share ideas for a ‘different’ type of Christmas; sometime sharing your thoughts will help you feel closer.
Don’t try and be super mum or super dad attempting to fix everything. It’s exhausting and pressured for everyone. It is much better all round to stagger the Christmas celebrations so that the children can spend relaxed time with both of you.
It’s only natural to feel especially protective of your children at Christmas, maybe even a little defensive but don’t let feeling guilty mean you give into pester power from the little ones or teenagers pressuring you to spend what you can’t afford.
It’s easy to do this, especially if the kids aren’t living with you. Try and make time for cheap or free ‘treats’ that everyone can look forward to……kids often know that money doesn’t buy love better than their parents do.
That brings me to the old but true cliche – money really can’t buy you love – we know it, but there’s a strong link, especially for mums, between spending money and expressing love so it’s easy to overspend. Thing is most people care more about the thought that went into presents, rather than how much they cost so try and keep that in mind.
What kids’ value the most is relaxed time with their parent/s more than expensive material things
. Overspending just sets up more problems afterwards which, in the long run, will make things worse for everyone. The more stressed you are about money the less able you will be to focus on your kid’s needs – so leave the credit card at home if you feel tempted to overspend.
Try to set a budget and then stick to it – shopping early and taking practical steps to avoid overspending is crucial.
Talk to the children and your ex about arrangements well in advance – realistic expectations can prevent disappointment for everyone.
Get your family on side and to recognise that doing things a little differently could help everyone deal with loss, divorce, or new family arrangements.
Try not to be too controlling or take things personally. For example, if your ex-partner says they can only see their child for a certain amount of time that doesn’t mean they don’t care. Instead of getting angry, organise things differently next Christmas
Possibly the most important thing to keep in mind at Christmas is that not the time to sort out problems and gripes. Christmas is stressful enough as it is. If possible, wait until things have settled down in the New Year.
Last but not least remember not to be be too hard on yourself – talk to friends about your feelings and allow yourself to work through them at your own pace. It’s normal to find Christmas difficult at the best of times so cut yourself some slack and have some fun :)