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A guide to navigating the festive season as a separated family

The festive season can be a tricky time for separated families. Everyone wants to see their children on Christmas day, but when you’re living in separate households, that’s not always possible.

However, there are some ways to make the festive season run more smoothly and ensure that both children and parents get the opportunity to enjoy a safe and happy holiday season together.

GET ORGANISED EARLY

It can take several months to organise a Court appearance and go through the process of changing an agreement or intervention order, so you need to start thinking about the festive season in August or September. The earlier you can start the process, the less stressful it will be. We also recommend considering organising plans several years in advance, not just for the coming holiday period.

BE WILLING TO NEGOTIATE

It is likely that the other parent will want some of the same things as you, so be willing to negotiate the arrangements. It is useful to enter the negotiation process with several ideas in mind about what you are willing to accept so that even if you don’t get your ideal outcome, you will still get a variation of what you want.

ORGANISE YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY

Once you have organised the arrangements for children over the festive season, have a conversation with your extended family about when and where you are going to celebrate. Where possible, ask your extended family to organise celebrations around when you will have the children. This will ensure that you, your children and your family all get to spend adequate time with each other and will minimise conflict and disappointment.

RESPECT CULTURAL NORMS

For some people the holiday season is a deeply religious or culturally significant time, so remember to respect any cultural or religious norms that might impact on when and how you see your children during this time. For example, if the other parent celebrates on Christmas Eve, respect their cultural norm and suggest a different time for you to see your children. Remember that it’s not just about what you want; it’s about what is best for your children.

EXPLAIN PLANS TO YOUR CHILDREN

It is important that your children have a clear understanding about the plans for the holiday period. Make sure that they know when and where they will see each parent, and get involved in helping them pack and prepare for visits. The more organised they are, they more comfortable they will feel and the easier the transition can be for you and your child. It’s also useful to have a conversation about where any presents will be kept in order to avoid misunderstandings and disappointment for your child.

UNDERSTAND THE LEGALITY OF AGREEMENTS

Formal agreements and intervention orders are legally binding, so it is important that you respect them. While you may not get everything you want in an agreement, breaching it can have legal consequences, not to mention a negative impact on your children. Make sure you are always thinking about them first. While it may be tempting to spend an extra day with them, imagine how they’re going to feel if they don’t get to see the other parent at Christmas time.

LOOK AFTER YOURSELF

If you are spending Christmas or the holiday season alone, make sure that you look after yourself. Being away from your children on important days can be difficult, so surround yourself with friends or family, or find something else to do. There are also a range of community groups who hold events during this time that you can get involved in.

KNOW WHAT SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE OVER THE HOLIDAY PERIOD

Many support and legal services are closed over the holiday period, so make sure you’re aware of where you can go for advice or support should you need it. SA Community has a great list of services available over the festive season, and in a crisis situation, remember that you can always phone Crisis Care on 13 16 11 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

DON’T COMPARE YOUR FAMILY TO OTHERS

Gone are the days of the nuclear family norm: mum, dad and 2.5 children. While some households still operate this way, it’s important to remember that families in 2014 come in all different shapes and sizes and that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ family. Try not to idealise what you think a family should be and instead embrace and cherish the family you do have, and the time you get to spend with them over the festive season.

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