Separation is difficult, but it can be even more so over the special occasions when both you and your ex-partner want to spend time with your child/ren. Here is the lowdown on how to best handle these delicate dates in the diary…
What kinds of occasions do you need to consider?
These will vary from family to family, as you may have different cultural or religious occasions which are important to you, but may include birthdays (theirs or yours), Christmas, New Year, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day, etc.
Through the eyes of your child
You will of course have strong feelings about wanting to spend time with your child, and that is normal and ok, but it is important to remember that your ex will too, and sometimes these strong feelings will cause difficulties in communication or clashes in perspectives of what is ‘fair’.
One thing which is helpful to try to do is to imagine things from your child’s point of view. Remember that these situations are very difficult for them too, and as children they are even less emotionally equipped to deal with it than you as an adult, and in addition, they may feel pretty powerless – that the adults are making all the decisions, and they just have to go/do what they are told. Try not to lose sight of what you are both wanting to achieve with your child – to make these special occasions as enjoyable as possible, with memorable experiences to create happy memories. If they feel like the events are causing upset or conflict between their parents, they are unlikely to be left with positive feelings.
While you are likely to feel upset if you are not with your child for a specific occasion, try not to project too much of your feelings on your child. Encourage them to have a good time and tell them how much you are looking forward to celebrating with them later. You don’t want them to feel divided loyalties, or that they are betraying you by having a nice time somewhere else. It is important, that where it is possible, your child gets to have this positive quality time with both parents.
Do all occasions need to be done separately?
It might be that you and your ex-partner do not wish to spend any time together, which is fine if that is what is best for you. However, if you are on amicable terms and can handle the idea of each other’s company for a short while, you could of course consider both being present for some occasions. Although it only happens in a minority of instances, some families do this very successfully – still celebrating birthdays or Christmas day together, even bringing together each other’s new families too, where applicable.
Obviously, to even consider this as an option, all the adults who would be present need to agree to behave appropriately. It could cause real upset and even trauma for the child if the special event turned out to be a huge family argument, or was a day filled with sniping and bitterness.
It would also be crucial to make it clear to the children that the coming together for one day is just to both be with them to celebrate that day – it is not a sign of reconciliation. Children often harbour secret hopes for a long time of their separated parents reconciling, so it is important to make sure that this is clearly, but positively, addressed in advance.
- Start discussing the special occasion in question, plenty of time in advance, so that all arrangements have been agreed in plenty of time.
- Plan all the details, who is doing the pickups and drop offs? Where to? Are there any specific things that the child might need (special outfits, etc).
- Make sure your child understands what is happening and when, and that they understand when they will get to spend time to celebrate with each parent.
- Come up with an arrangement about whether you get to speak to your child on that day – agreeing a time for a phone call to them if so.
- Come up with a plan which keeps the child at the centre, and doesn’t have them rushing from one celebration with one parent to another with the other – else they might not get chance to really enjoy either.
- Consider having two celebrations, so the child gets to celebrate with each parent.
- Why not create your own special traditions which don’t have to be done on a certain date each year, but that you do each year so that they are something to always look forward to and celebrate when you are together, and become special in their own right?
Think about yourself too
While you will be putting your child first, this does not mean that you shouldn’t also consider yourself, especially at the times when your child is with their other parent for a special occasion. It can be very difficult to find yourself apart from your child on a special day, and it is important to make sure that you are prepared for coping with that.
A good idea, is to make sure you have some firm plans to spend time with your friends or family while your child is with their other parent. Keeping busy, and doing things which you would normally struggle to do, are good ways to taking some of the focus off not being with them.