Christmas, that time of peace and goodwill is only a short time away and don’t I know it!
Christmas is a frenetic time for most and certainly a time of high emotion. It is always said in mediation that we can’t change what has happened but you can affect the future by your actions and behaviour.
Every family’s expectations for Christmas is individual. Different rules apply at Christmas in terms of family gatherings and traditions. It is so important, as a Mediator to focus not on Christmas day itself but on the Christmas holidays as a whole incorporating New Year celebrations
This year in particular, mediation offers a quick and practical help to parents in the mire of Christmas arrangement difficulties. If one parent is entitled to legal aid then what ever the financial circumstances of the other, they will also be entitled to a free intake session and also a free first mediation appointment. Most Christmas contact uncertainties can be mediated within that 1 hour session.
I always use the flip chart and put up the calendar days of Christmas going back to the last contact prior to the Christmas holidays and spread out those dates through to the date the children go back to school. This then gives each parent a visual sight of the number of days that there actually are and the increased options that there are for contact during this period. If an agreement is reached I often get parents to actually sign the flip chart as a symbolic sign of their agreement (later of course confirmed in a short written agreement).
No two families are alike but certainly this year more mediated agreements have been reached upon the basis that the children will spend Christmas Eve and overnight to about midday on Christmas day and then move to the other parent for Christmas lunch and presents. This means that children see both their parents on the same day. This of course is not always possible particularly if distances are involved and then the more traditional alternate Christmas days or even alternate Christmas’s and New Year Eve/days are the norm.
Christmas is a time for children to truly enjoy the magic of Christmas. It is right therefore that the mediation always needs to be child focused. However, for all parents who are separated, it inevitably mean that sometime over the Christmas period that their children will not actually be with them. This may be the first time in the children’s lives that this happens. It is essential that the parent without the children on Christmas Day makes positive plans for themselves so that the children do not spend the day thinking about the lonely parent at home!
The sooner Christmas arrangements can be finalised and the children told the better. It means that everyone can make their arrangements and move forward to make the best of the festive season.
Remember, children are not just for Christmas!