(That's Men column from The Irish Times Tuesday 8th November)
This is the time of year when separated parents need to consider how
to handle Christmas with their kids. Here are some tips which assume
the traditional arrangement, namely that the children live with the
Talk to your ex. Organising Christmas satisfactorily when people talk
to each other is difficult enough - if they fail to communicate at
all, it's likely to be a mess. If you and your ex are not on talking
terms, perhaps a mutual friend/relative could help. Do not use the
children as negotiators or go-betweens: they should not have to carry
this responsibility. And if at all possible, keep solicitors out of it
- little if any peace and goodwill can survive their incendiary
Work out the where, when and how. Can both parents be in the room when
the children open their Christmas presents? If not, when and how will
you give them their presents? Where will you meet them? If either or
both of you has a partner, will/should the partner be present? This
needs working out between you and it needs mutual respect in the
It doesn't all have to happen on Christmas Day. If you can't be with
the children on Christmas Day, perhaps they can be with you on St
Stephen's Day. Perhaps the children might have a Christmas celebration
at your place before Christmas Day by agreement with the other parent.
Consider extended family. Grandparents matter to children so try to
arrange for them to see both sets of grandparents.
Avoid jealousy. If your child is living with half-siblings from your
ex's new relationship, could you include presents for these other
children as well? Children are children after all, and this could be a
smart move to help cement relationships all round.
Respect the live-in parent's opinions on presents. If you want to give
your child an iPhone 4s and the live-in parent thinks this is a bad
idea then it's important to respect the opinion of that parent and not
to undermine her. This is not a time for getting into a competition
with the other parent.
Consider what you can preserve from the past. If you recently
separated, think about what sort of activities the children are used
to at Christmas. How much of this could they still do with cooperation
between both parents? Visits to grandparents might form part of this
tradition, for instance.
What is the role of the new partner/partners? What involvement should
the new partners have in the planning? What involvement should they
have when you are with the kids on the day? Now may be a better time
to work this out than the 25th of December.
Consider the children's needs. Will coming to you completely disrupt
their Christmas because of distance, for instance? Will they have to
miss their Christmas play or some other important (to them) event? If
so, consider changing the arrangement to accommodate them.
If it all breaks down. If you simply cannot arrange to see the
children, think of sending cards and presents. Take care of yourself
on Christmas Day. There will be other days: keep yourself in good
shape for them.
I would like to acknowledge that some of the ideas in this article
came from the Family Mediation Service of the Family Support Agency
and others from the Equal Rights for Separated Dads website at
www.separateddads.co.uk It's an excellent website which I recommend to
separated dads (and mums).
I am sorry if any of what I have written here is patronising. I have
never been in the situation I am writing about and if I have struck
the wrong note with those who are living through it, that's why.
However, I am well aware that Christmas is an emotionally difficult
time for many separated parents. The key message is to start thinking
about and planning the Christmas arrangements right now - do not wait
until Christmas Week.