children

Who gets to play Santa now we’re divorced?

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.

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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.

Almost a quarter of divorced parents spend Christmas Day together

Almost a quarter of divorced parents spend Christmas Day together

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’.

Planning ahead…

At what time of year do parents make Christmas arrangements?

At what time of year do parents make Christmas arrangements?

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

important factors when dividing time spent

important factors when dividing time spent with the children

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.

Most common cause of arguments

Most common cause of arguments

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.

Trying to be 'Super Parent' is exhausting

Trying to be ‘Super Parent’ is exhausting

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

Spend some chilled time with the kids this Christmas

Spend some chilled time with the kids this Christmas

. 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 🙂

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School Days…

I have been invited to a school reunion.

Since leaving school over 20 years ago I haven’t seen any of my old school mates, except for a brew with a one once, and a couple of chance encounters when I’ve bumped into them while out n about, once literally.

When I say ‘mates’ I should point out that the majority of people I went to school with were not my mates at all – In fact I have very mixed feelings about my time in secondary school, there were some funny times, but on the whole I felt like I never quite fitted in and spent most of my time just trying to get through the day without drawing too much attention to myself .

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I only had a small circle of real friends, finding the best way to get through school was to stay out of the way of the ‘cool’ kids whilst trying not to activate the nerd radar.

I did manage to make my way through school mostly unscathed but wasn’t as successful at dodging the nerds. This worked out pretty well though to be fair, many of my memories involve eating my packed lunch in a corner of the playground with a variety of weird and wonderful characters.

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Me n my little sister

 Speaking to my parents about my time at school it became pretty obvious that education during the ‘swinging sixties’ was rather different to the experience I had, and miles apart from the school kids of today.

Those were the days of ‘proper education’ – Nitty Nora, Big gym knickers, smoking in class (teachers AND pupils, allegedly) as well as cross-country running with the last one to finish punished with the cane…Can you imagine the headlines today?

My mum speaks fondly of board-rubber throwing teachers and playing a friendly game of  ‘knuckles’ in the yard, things that would be totally alien to the bubble wrapped kids of today. There’s so much health and safety legislation around playtime that some schools have even banned conkers and football.

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Nitty Nora, The Bug Explorer

Me, well I’m a 70s baby so I was at school during the nineties and things had changed dramatically by then.

We still had cross-country running and, although we weren’t encouraged by the threat of a cane, we did have the horror of communal showers when we reached the end.

I’m not sporty, not even a little bit and found the whole PE experience a total nightmare. I’ve never been any good at things that require hand/eye co-ordination so I really struggled to hit/catch/throw a ball, meaning I was always one of the last to be picked for a team. Not so good for your self-esteem when you’re 13.

 images-6And what was the craic with communal bloody showers?

Basically, once we had finished whatever form of exercise they deemed fit that day, the whole class had to shower together – supervised by our allegedly female, yet very manly looking teacher.

She would literally stand on a bench in the changing room overlooking the shower and insist that at the ‘very least’ we each walked from one end of the shower to the other while holding your towel above your head.

As an adult I realise just how wrong this was on many levels – I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed by anything else before or since. Think about it – when you’re a teenager the thought of your own mum walking in on you in the shower is enough to send you into a  total meltdown, let alone parading your naked body in front of 32 classmates n a teacher.

Eventually, some of us (ok – just me then) developed distraction techniques such as bringing an umbrella, rubber ducks, even armbands. To me it was better to make a joke out of the situation than anyone realise that actually I still wore a vest and had no sign of ever growing boobs.

On a brighter note, I do have fond memories of playing with the gas taps in the biology lab, sneaky cigarettes behind the bike shed and my first ever crush on a teacher who shall remain nameless.

Now I’m an adult and wear my vest with pride – incidentally I also shower alone these days, unless you can count an annoying 7-year-old who always seems to need something urgently as soon as I head for the bathroom.

I also have children of my own with the youngest three still at school.

My daughter is at secondary school herself and is about to turn 15. She’s far more sensible than I was at her age and I don’t have to worry about her smoking or having a questionable crush. Today teenagers are more health conscious – in fact they’re more likely to offer facts and figures about smoking related illness than ask you to buy cigs for them.

As for a crush, my daughter doesn’t have time for that, she’s far too busy practicing the drums with her band or reading some obscure yet amazing literature she’s researched on the Internet. As I said, today’s youth are clued up and, in my experience, it seems that they do learn from our mistakes – if we admit to them that is.

The youngest two are in junior school meaning that a vast chunk of the summer holidays were spent buying uniform, sourcing shoes, choosing bags, naming PE kits and other essential school paraphernalia.

I’m hoping that this year we will still be in possession of (most) these items come October, if last year is anything to go on it’s highly doubtful and I will be losing my shit about the kids losing their shit by Halloween.

My boys have both, on separate occasions, managed to lose a shoe on the school roof. Unbelievable, right? I’ve discovered that this is only possible with a loose shoelace, an amazingly good shot and some determination. I’ve also discovered that while the caretaker is not insured to retrieve shoes from the roof, the wind will blow them back down again eventually.

This September we’re full of good intent. The boys have promised to behave well and work hard. I’ve already set my alarm clock and taken a vow of punctuality – the disapproving looks from the teacher as I signed in late yet again on the last day of term has seen to that. No more ‘late walk of shame’ for me.

Uniform at the ready and school bags packed ready to go, the kids are sorted and I can relax, briefly. Won’t be long until Nativity season, along with letters home asking us to make some obscure costume requiring hours of searching the internet for the strangest of things – like the year school decided to perform a ‘contemporary nativity’ and we found ourselves making alien costumes while all the other (lucky) parents from neighbouring schools picked up a ready made shepherd outfits or Mary ensembles.

With that in mind I’m off to get a head start before they sell out of neon leggings and doody bopper thingys. Now, where did I put that tinsel?………

This was originally written for Within Magazine – September edition….;)

Stressed parenting…

naughty kids

Are you a stressed out parent?

Remember the days before you had children?

The time of late nights for social reasons, lazy mornings for sleep catch up purposes, and being able to go to a party/holiday/shopping trip on a total whim – often catching a last minute bargain?

This was the period of your life otherwise known as B.C….Before Children.

If, however, like me, you have entered the ‘other’ realm of existence known as W.C…..With Children (no pun intended), life is probably rather different:

The dark times of late nights due to baby/child/teenager being sick, demanding an extra bedtime story or needing a lift home.

Early mornings every morning as the kids seem to work on a time zone similar to that of Narnia and need very little sleep at all.

Never being able to go anywhere on a whim. Ever. This is closely linked with supermarket meltdowns, toddler tantrums and getting totally fleeced for ‘term friendly holidays’.

I have four children aged between seven and seventeen and, due to incredibly poor planning on my behalf this meant that as one little cherub went off to nursery another soon arrived to take their place.

Having a baby at home creates stress unlike any other, especially when you add siblings into the mix.

On more than one occasion the older kids have taken advantage of me being ‘debilitated’ with the baby, especially when I was fresh out of hospital and nursing my youngest, Zain.

Being the resourceful mum that I am, I soon devised a way to wear a baby sling in such a manner that I could still retain order whilst feeding the baby. On a good day I could even bake a cake at the same time, the ingenuity of a mum on the brink is never to be under estimated.

As the children have grown older and are now all in school the challenges have become different. It can seem much more straight forward when you have a baby, after all most problems can be solved with a change of nappy, some playtime or a hug – sometimes a combination of all three.

These days they are more likely to need help with homework or advice on a situation they’re not sure about. This is where it gets tricky – Google is good for homework but not so good when your teenage daughter is broken hearted after being dumped.

All in all parenting is a minefield, full of potential danger and requiring a good sense of direction. The good news is that they will grow up and, if you are lucky, you may just see them run ragged by their own kids one day. Grandma position is far more flexi time than motherhood and you get to hand them back at the end of the day.

kid superman

Until that time here are some situations

that I am sure fellow W.C survivors will relate to, some more than others….

1. You know the name of every single *Skylander ever created but can’t remember where you put your door keys…again.

*the craze will change yearly and often comes round again, like fashion. I have personally lived through three Pokemon ‘resurrections’.

2. You try to pay for your shopping at the corner market only to find 3 buttons, 1 stone, a fluffy sweet and an elastic band in the pocket where your money used to be.

3. The only similarity your life has with that of a rock star is the flock of whining ‘groupies’ that follow you everywhere you go chanting your name and hanging off your body…

4. Your social life starts to resemble that of a very old nun. A very old, anti-social nun who has taken a vow of silence. In fact you begin to suspect that said nun actually has a better social life.

5. On more than one occasion you have climbed into bed after a successful days parenting (no fatalities and everyone accounted for), only to find that one of your little darlings has beaten you to it, done a wee and then got back in their clean, dry bed…..true story.

6. Having a shower becomes a family event with the kids in and out wanting a ‘number two’ help with a shoe lace or other urgent ‘problem’ that needs immediate action. A soak in the bath becomes nothing more than a distant memory.

7. Helping the kids with their homework consists of opening multiple Internet search windows and bribery on a massive scale.

This can also be bad for your health, the pressure of trying to complete mathematic equations meant for your seven year old really brings home how much you didn’t learn in school.

8. Holiday priorities change from ‘great beach and stunning vista’ to ‘kids clubs and babysitting facilities’ as well as easily accessible.

We took the children to Dubai when they were younger and, whilst the time we were there was amazing, the trip was anything but. Spending seven hours on a plane with small children was something else. By the time we landed I was a stressed out ball of anxiety, the hubby and I had resorted to bickering and the kids were bouncing off the walls, full of pent up energy.

This year we will go camping in the UK….

9. You start to sound more like your mum than she ever did…

10. You arrive at work in your slippers, very scary hair and last night’s bolognaise on your shirt…and it’s only Monday.

If you have yet to experience the joy of parenthood, please don’t let me put you off.

You may just be one of the lucky ones that gives birth to a text book child both well behaved and polite…If on the other hand you are already blessed with children and know the odds of actually being blessed with text book kid are less than 0.01 percent then I salute you. Hang on in there, bedtime is in sight, they do have to sleep at some point…don’t they?

girl smoking

Parenting woes and stubbed toes…

girl smoking

“Schizoid behavior is a pretty common thing in children. It’s accepted, because all we adults have this unspoken agreement that children are lunatics.”    ― Stephen King

Remember the days before you had children?
The days of late nights for social reasons, late mornings for sleep catch-up purposes and being able to go to a party/holiday/shopping trip on a total whim – often catching a ‘last minute bargain’
This was the period of your life known as B.C….Before Children.
However, if, like me, you have entered the ‘other’ part of existence known as W.C…..With Children, no pun intended, life is probably rather different:
The dark days of late nights due to baby/child/teenager being sick/stubbing toe and demanding attention. Early mornings every morning as the kids seem to work on a time zone similar to that of Narnia. Never being able to go anywhere on a whim. Ever. This is also closely linked with supermarket meltdowns and getting fleeced for term friendly holidays.
kid superman
Here are some situations that I am sure fellow W.C survivors will relate to, some more than others….
1. You know the name of every Skylander ever created but can’t remember where you put your door keys…again.
2. You try to pay for your shopping at the corner shop and find 3 buttons, 1 stone, a fluffy sweet and an elastic band in the pocket where your money used to be.
3. The only similarity your life has with that of a rock star is the group of whining ‘groupies’ that follow you everywhere you go chanting your name….think Stewie.
4. Your social life starts to resemble that of a very old nun. A very old anti-social nun. In fact you begin to suspect that said nun actually has a better social life.
5. On more than one occasion you have climbed into bed after a hard days parenting, only to find that one of your little darlings has beaten you to it, done a wee and then got back in their cosy dry bed…..true story.
6. Having a shower becomes a family event with the kids in and out wanting a poo, help with a shoe lace or other urgent ‘problem’ that needs immediate action.
7. Helping the kids with their homework consists of opening multiple google search windows and bribery on a massive scale.
8. Holiday priorities change from ‘great beach and stunning vista’ to ‘kids clubs and babysitting facilities’.
9. You start to sound more like your mum than she ever did…
10. You arrive at work in your slippers, very scary hair and last night’s bolognese on your shirt…and it’s only Monday.
 If you have yet to experience the joy of parenthood, please don’t let me put you off, you might be one of the lucky ones that gets a text book child that is well behaved and polite…If on the other hand you have already had children and know the odds of actually being blessed with text book kid are less than 0.01 I salute you, feel free to add to the list if you feel I have missed something;)
naughty kids
Photo credits:
Girl smoking with kind permission of  peagreengirl via Flickr/CreativeCommons.
Superman baby courtesy of simosmme via Flickr/CreativeCommons.
Naughty cupboard thanks to lucyfrench123 via Flickr/CreativeCommons.
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