Dividing Time Over the Holidays: A Guide for Separated Parents

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For parents who have separated, creating a positive and memorable Christmas for your children can be a challenge. We encourage separated parents to prepare thoughtfully and safely for the holiday season, recognising any challenges and making a plan.

Handling the holiday break can be especially complex when there is tension in your co-parenting relationship; and if you are experiencing high conflict or domestic violence.

We have outlined some principles to help you to develop a holiday plan and reduce the stress of the season.  

1. Focus on respectful communication. Give your kids a safe space to share their thoughts about Christmas and spending time with both parents. When discussing the other parent and their extended family, maintain a respectful tone. Reinforce that both parents are committed to making the holidays special for everyone.

If there are new partners and their children involved make sure to talk about this ahead of time, especially if it is the first holiday season with this new dynamic. Approach these discussions with the same respect. Ensure everyone, especially the children, feels welcomed and included.

It’s okay to acknowledge the difficulties you may face during the holidays, as well as emphasize what you are excited to do together.

2. Be creative with your arrangements. Explore different ways to organise time during the Christmas period, allowing your children to enjoy quality moments with both parents. For instance, consider having the kids wake up with one parent and go to bed with the other on Christmas Day. If the parents live far apart, think about doing video or phone calls.

If changeovers tend to be challenging, try a different location or create a new tradition. Meeting at a local park or playground, for example, can help minimize negative associations for the children.

3. Stick to your plan. Once you have an agreed plan, it is important to stick to it. Unexpected changes can leave children feeling confused.

It is also a good idea to have a backup plan for unforeseen circumstances such as unexpected illness, or other disruptions out of your control.

4. Be kind to yourself. The Christmas break can be really difficult for parents, especially if this is your first Christmas after a separation. Many parents experience grief when they aren’t able to spend as much time with their children as they have in the past. Make sure you put some strategies in place to look after yourself, after all, your kids want their parents to have a great Christmas too!

Plan to spend the time without your children with other loved ones, family or friends who are sensitive to your situation. This can help you stay focused on creating a positive Christmas experience for your kids.

5. Plan for the rest of the school holidays. Beyond Christmas, plan for the rest of the school holidays. Recognise that spending quality time with both parents might be tricky, especially if work commitments are a factor. We encourage parents to create arrangements where children can spend enjoyable time with extended family members and supportive individuals, who both parents have agreed are suitable carers.

Explore the possibility of adjusting work schedules for more time with the kids, as some employers may offer flexibility.

How can we help?

We offer various support services for families navigating separation across Canberra, the Riverina, and the South Coast of New South Wales. Our services include family mediation, counselling, property and financial mediation, co-parenting support, and assistance with domestic and family violence.

Our Children’s Contact Service provides a safe and supportive environment for supervised visits and changeovers following a separation or relationship breakdown.

Feel free to get in touch to find out more.