CHRISTMAS and the holiday period can be a complicated time for separated parents but Julia Tutty, of Relationships Australia, says planning ahead is key for a happy holiday.
Julia is the practice manager of post-separation services in the organisation’s national office in Deakin and says: “Christmas and the holidays can be one of the most anxious times for parents, especially if you don’t have any documents or parenting plans in place to focus on what the children need at the time.
“Emotions can run high over the Christmas period and if there’s nothing in place then that’s when things will escalate,” she says.
“Talk as early as possible and make sure you’re on the same page with the same plans for Christmas and the school holidays.”
Part of Julia’s role at Relationships Australia is providing mediation for separated parents and helping parents get a plan in place that they both agree on, that suits them.
“Christmas Day means different things to different people,” she says.
“If it does mean a lot then it would be looking at coming to a compromise about what the day would look like.
“The difficult thing about Christmas Day is that traditionally people have a Christmas lunch.
“It’s important, whatever arrangement you’ve come to, that it’s one that’s agreed by both parents and it’s in the best interests of the children.”
If there’s a change over between parents during the day, Julia says it’s important to ensure that the change over is done in a calm way so the children aren’t picking up on any tension.
“We want children to be children and if they pick up on that tension then they’ll be worried,” she says.
“Focus on the kids. Kids don’t want or need the conflict so don’t argue in front of the children, avoid uncertainty and don’t chop and change plans on the day.”
It really all comes down to communication, according to Julia, who says it’s good to ask questions such as: Are they doing joint Christmas presents?
“It’s about compromise. Don’t compete with each other but instead look for solutions,” she says.
“Arrange to meet the child’s other parent at a convenient time, in a neutral place.
“Keep to the topic at hand and be direct, clear, specific and non-blaming, and stay calm and listen without blaming.
“When the going gets too tough then that’s when mediation can help.
“Christmas can be a sad time and we have to acknowledge that. We don’t want children caught up in the conflict otherwise they might feel anxious, sad or confused.”
And, if a child or a parent ever feels unsafe, Julia urges the parent to contact the appropriate agencies or authorities.
“Safety is paramount. It might mean saying: ‘I can’t have this conversation’,” she says.
“It’s important that people access services if they need them and they look after themselves.
“There’s always counselling available. Lots of organisations like ours shut down over the period but there’s 24-hour lines that people can access if they need support.”
For parents thinking ahead to next year, Julia says have the conversations about the holidays early in the year and if that doesn’t work, consider mediation.