Christmas is a traditional family time but not all families will be together this Christmas. In his weekly column for the Leinster Express, Dr Eddie Murphy from RTÉ’s Operation Transformation has some advice on how to enjoy the festive season if apart.
For some families Christmas is just different, this doesn’t mean it can’t be peaceful and joyful. Just as Christmas can be stressful for so called “regular” families it can be even more challenging for families that have separated.
But the bottom line it can be made even more difficult by poor communication, planning and continuing power plays where the children are used as pawns. How do parents who do not live together or maybe have never lived together, manage their roles as Mummy and Daddy/Mum and Dad over Christmas?
Here one thing I know, along with love, children need a sense of security: routine and to know what to expect. Providing structure to access / visits / overnights etc, along with clear consistent guidelines & boundaries by all parents/carers, offers children a sense of ‘security’.
So many factors come into play for couples who have children together and are no longer a couple – here are just a few:
Never have lived together – Dad/Mum around but not regularly
Lived together – now separated
Lived together – now divorced
Married and now apart
Divorced - one partner with new partner
Divorced – both partners with new partners
Children who do not live with one/both parent(s) or who live in care may struggle with a mixture of strong thoughts and emotions, e.g.:
Sadness at not ‘living happily ever after’ as a family unit including both parents.
Anger towards one/both parents for not providing that ‘family unit’
Blame themselves for their living arrangement.
Feel torn between loyalties to parents/carers.
Feel rejected or abandoned.
Shame for not living with both parents.
Feel happy living away from parent(s).
Believe they can do something that will reunite the family.
Things to keep in mind
1.Sometimes during access visits, parents tend to over compensate for the fact that they are not full-time parents to their children. Therefore they may spoil the children with treats or allow them to have their way all the time. This kind of parenting can be stressful for the parent and is not at all helpful to the child. It may result in the child becoming demanding and/or aggressive in manner. After such access visits, many children are ‘high’ on sugar, and having had little boundaries/rules, can be very controlling, aggressive and destructive in manner when back to their everyday life routine.
2.The parent(s)/carer(s) may criticise or say bad things about each other in front of the children, or may argue in their presence. This can be very upsetting and confusing for children.
3.Sometimes one of the parents/carers may feel their relationship with the child, is overshadowed by the child’s relationship with the other parent/carers. This may give rise to jealousies expressed in spoiling the child (to be the favourite carer). Or the jealousy may be expressed in aggressiveness and negativity towards the child. Both reactions can create anxiety or insecurity for the child.
THE GOLDEN RULE IS PUT CHILDRENS NEEDS FIRST
Top 10 Christmas Tips
1.Try to make arrangements for Christmas as far in advance as possible. Negotiate a time on Christmas day when you can see your children, or compromise and see them on St. Stephen’s Day for your own special Christmas.
Remember that if you are not able to see the children on Christmas day, you may be able to speak with them over the phone.
2.You could also agree to alternate years, so that you each get to spend Christmas Day with your children every other year.
3.Don’t try to compete with your children’s other parent. Over-spending or trying to outdo one another will lead to disappointment and heartache.
4.You could even come up with a budget for you both to spend on the children, and discuss what you plan to get them. This way, you will avoid competition and the children will not end up with identical gifts. -- Try not to compete for who buys the best present – it is so hard to keep this up and children usually see right through it.
5.If you face spending Christmas Day alone, see if any friends are in the same situation and make plans with them. You could invite them round for Christmas lunch or go out and volunteer together.
6.Put your children’s needs before your own. It’s not fair to ruin your children’s special day by putting them in unfair situations, such as having to choose between you and their other parent.
7.Keep in touch with the resident parent to find out whether your child has any nativity plays or special events that you could attend.
8.Your children will feel happier if you keep them involved with plans and arrangements. Good communication between you, your children and their other parent will be beneficial for everyone.
9.If you are used to your children’s other parent doing the shopping and feel overwhelmed; talk to him or her and ask for idea
10.As your children get older, they may want to have their own say in what they do for Christmas, and might want to do their own thing as well.
Note Goal Mile -- Create a family memory attend a GOAL mile event. GOAL mile starts at 11.00am on Christmas Day Portarlington GAA CLUB – Run, Walk or Jog while the turkey cooks. No registration required. Donate at Gate. Just turn up.
As well as his counselling practice, Dr Eddie does talks, training and workshops for school, community, voluntary, sporting and work groups. Call 087 1302899 or visit www.dreddiemurphy.ie
Dr Eddie Murphy runs a psychology and counselling practice in Portarlington, helping with panic attacks, anxiety, anger, depression, PTSD, etc for children, adults and families. Call 087 1302899 or visit www.dreddiemurphy.ie