How can I deal with co-parenting over Christmas?

Christmas can be a challenging time for people in a co-parenting arrangement. It can feel more complicated than ever this year, given the Covid-19 rules and advice.

Often both parents (and grandparents) will want to spend time with the children over Christmas. When this isn’t possible, it can be upsetting for the parent who can’t see their child.

Co-parenting: a parent picking up a laughing child in front of a field of pine trees
  • Successful co-parenting needs compromising and good communication. This is as necessary as ever when it comes to making Christmas arrangements.
  • Some separated parents will have a court order which lays out the arrangements. It will cover when each parent can see their child or children and tries to make the time share as fair as possible. For separated parents who don’t have a court order, this can lead to difficult conversations. You will each need to compromise and you may feel like neither parent is happy with the outcome.
  • It is important to understand that Christmas will be different when co-parenting after separation. But it can still be a lovely and special time for you to spend with your child or children. Think of it as an opportunity to create new memories and traditions together.
  • Try to keep your child or children’s feelings at the centre of your plans. Remember that they will also be affected by Christmas feeling different. Not seeing one parent on a key day may be hard for them. They may miss whichever parent they are not with. Creating new traditions might help with these feelings. It can help them have fun in the moment rather than focussing on what Christmas used to be like.
  • If it is possible, try to plan ahead with Christmas arrangements. Changing restrictions can make this trickier this year. But it will give you time to plan and find compromises.
  • Communication can be difficult between separated parents. If a direct conversation isn’t possible, there are different ways to agree arrangements. You could access a mediation service, or communicate through a neutral third party.
  • For some, Christmas is a time to take into account the extended family who would like to see the children. Again, this may mean you need to compromise.
  • Think about how you can make the time split feel fair. There are different ways to make sure both parents are part of the festivities. If your relationship with your ex-partner is positive, could you spend some of the day together with the children? You could plan a family walk in nearby nature or to look at Christmas lights.
  • If that won’t work for your set up, consider sharing the ‘key’ days. Your child or children could stay with one parent on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Then they could spend Christmas Day afternoon and Boxing Day with the other parent. Have a think about what will work best for you and your co-parent.
  • Once you have your co-parenting arrangements sorted, try to present a united front to the children. Be positive about your plans. Try to make the transitions between homes as calm and cheerful as possible.

What to do if you may not be able to see your children this Christmas:

For some parents, it won’t be possible to spend time with their child or children over the Christmas period.

  • You could form a ‘Christmas bubble’ either with family or close friends. If that’s not possible, you can still spend time with your normal support network. Depending on your tier, you could make plans to meet family and friends in outdoor spaces or have a meal outside. Try to spend some time with other people and get out of the house. Staying busy and finding other moments of festive fun can help.
  • Think about alternative ways to spend the festive period. Are there any charities in your area that need extra help at the moment? You could contact local charities to see whether they have any volunteering opportunities.
  • There are ways to be part of your child or children’s Christmas even if you can’t be with them in person. You could arrange a video call with them on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. You could watch a favourite festive film at the same time and talk about the best parts. TeleParty (previously called Netflix Party) allows you to chat during the film and play or pause at the same time. Make plans together for the next time you will see them. You could have an early or delayed ‘mini-Christmas’ of your own.
  • It is normal to feel sad or upset about not spending the festive period with your child or children. Make sure you have a support network of family and friends who can help you when you feel low.
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