Posted by Gemma Sparks on 18th January 2023
Let’s talk about Christmas 2023?!  Planning is key to parenting when separated.

As you pass the leftover festive food and try to stick to your new year resolutions, Christmas 2023 is probably far from your mind but for separated parents it is a good time to start thinking about the year ahead and how you may share the school holidays including what will happen next Christmas.

When the Christmas countdown begins, we are often contacted by parents close to the big day who are disappointed by or don’t agree with the suggested arrangements. This late in the day, there is little legally we can do in such a short space of time.  So, this new year here are our 5 tips on how you can avoid last minute disappointment and how you can work together to plan for sharing school holidays and the important dates in your children’s lives.

1 – Work together to plan ahead

It is never easy to split the school holidays when both parents want to spend as much valuable time with their children as possible.   But did you realise that most children at school receive between 13 and 15 weeks of holidays. This number is relatively similar between both primary schools and secondary schools.

When you then consider that the average holiday allowance for working adults in the UK is 5.6 paid weeks a year it seems there should be more than enough to share, both time and expense wise, with the other parent.

Treat school holidays and special days as a high priority and arranged well in advance.  In turn it will help things like:

  • Booking your annual leave in good time to enable you to be with your child or children.
  • Planning any childcare arrangements for times that you may need to work or other immovable commitments.
  • Arranging any special occasions that fall during school holidays such as birthdays or family events.
  • Sorting any clubs or activities that need paying for or organizing like sport training sessions or guide/scout camps.
  • Managing costs like extra childcare.

Inevitably there will be times when plans need to change last minute but giving as much notice as possible is generally a good rule to live by.

It’s important to involve your children in the decision-making whenever possible, particularly as they get older.  Make sure you ask how they feel about the plans to help give them a sense of control.

Put the dates into a calendar or app with the children so they can feel involved and know where they are going and when.

2 – Communication

Communication when co-parenting is very important.  Find a way to communicate whether through an app, text message or if you can speak regularly with the other parent.  There may be practical things to solve like pick up times or which holiday club to use but there will also be things that you both miss when they are with the other parent that are important to the child like a new favourite toy, a visit from the tooth fairy, the fact they no longer like broccoli or falling off the climbing frame at the park. Work together to be the vital link between the children’s day-to-day life and the other parent.

If you know that this year the child’s birthday falls when they are in your care perhaps suggest the other parent comes round for the birthday cake or that they have another special day instead.  With a view to swapping over next year.

If you are planning a trip abroad, be upfront and honest about your plans. If you are upfront about where you are going and what you are planning to do, you may be able to alleviate the other parents concerns and make the process of agreeing holiday arrangements easier. Sharing details of your trip such as contact details, location and itinerary can help everyone involved feel more at ease.

Finally, set some communication boundaries while the children are away. If they are away for one or two weeks, you will of course want to know they are ok, but you don’t want to take over their time with the other parent.  Agreeing a telephone call or email contact before they go is a good way to manage this.

3 – Be flexible

Things happen, or plans are changed by factors that are out of your control. Maybe the other parent has had their annual leave altered, the children have been invited to a last-minute sleep over or someone significant in your life is poorly. Life is often unpredictable.

Sometimes these will result in requests to change the schedule. Changes can be frustration, upsetting or burdensome so think about how you communicate.  Whether it is you requesting a change or if you are being asked, take time to consider a solution like swapping days or keeping the children in your care until later in the day to help the other parent.  Try to be flexible and reach a compromise.

If you feel the changes are frequent or unreasonable and it’s causing concern, then speak to an experienced family lawyer for advice.

4 – Have your child’s best interest at heart 

As parents we, as most people do, want happy holiday memories to cherish but sometimes we put our feelings first when instead we need to think about the best outcome for the children.  Just because we had our heart set on opening the Christmas Eve box or having an extravagant birthday barbecue it may not be what is best.  It may feel frustrating but if your child really wants to spend their birthday with their friends who live in the street with the other parent then perhaps the barbecue can take place the week after. Or the Christmas Eve box can become the New Year’s Eve box instead.

Try not to vent your frustrations about the other parent in front of the children; they need to know that you are supportive and happy that they spend time with both of you.

5 – Enjoy your time with or without your children  

When your children are with their other parent you are of course going to miss them, but it is also an opportunity for you to get some down-time and to focus on yourself or the other people in your lives.  Perhaps share your plans with your children not only does it show self-care but reinforces that it is ok to spend time apart and that you are happy they are spending time with their other parent.

Need some advice? Get in touch today

Gemma Sparks is a multiple-award winning Solicitor at The Family Law Company. She leads our Children team and has been recognised by the Devon and Somerset Law Society for her work on Children Law and Domestic Abuse cases.

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