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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 23 September, 2014

Column: 8 ways to stay civil with your ex-partner

It can be a tough time of year if you are newly separated, but it is important to put your children first, while also taking time for yourself, writes Sheila O’Malley.

Sheila O'Malley

CHRISTMAS FOR SEPARATED or divorced parents is never easy. It can be a difficult time to navigate yourself, even without the added trouble of negotiating how Christmas is going to be.

However, there are things you can do that will make a difference. With a little planning and thinking through the things that will help you to have a good time, you will be busy and enjoy the break. It is a time to make time for friends and to indulge yourself. Build in some new family traditions with your children and when your children are with your ex, have a look at how you could spend your time, whether it be volunteering or taking a little holiday over the break. It is important to maintain Christmas as a happy time for your children, and for yourself.

1. Planning

Make your arrangements as far in advance as possible. This can be fraught as both parents want and need to see their children at Christmas, therefore negotiation is key as well as the ability to see things from the other person’s perspective.

2. Be Flexible

Where will the children spend Christmas Day? When do they get to see the other parent? Try to step into your ex-partner’s shoes and see it from their point of view. This may help you to reconcile your differences for the sake of your children and put their needs first at Christmas.

3. Negotiate difference

Negotiate the differences between you and your ex and be willing to listen to things from their point of view. When they have a sense they are being listened to and understood, you will find they are more able to listen to you. Do not have conflict in front of the children or speak badly about your ex to them, as they do not want to be asked to take sides.

4. Compromise

Your ability to compromise around the times/days you have access to your children, reduces the stress all around and children are sensitive to conflict between their parents. It is a difficult time for both partners and therefore trying to focus on the current issue, and not to bring up old issues, is important.

5. Do not compete

Many parents compete on Christmas presents and your ability to avoid competing with your ex-partner is important. Can you agree a budget or purchase something together? So often children get caught in the crossfire of conflict around money – so avoid if possible. Children enjoy all the traditions around Christmas, not just the presents. They will enjoy the quality time spent with each parent, so enjoy the old traditions and build in some new ones. Every year I love getting out for some fresh air with a day in Glendalough with friends. After a three hour trek, some hot food off the camper stove and a bag of crisps, I’m set. It’s a wonderful day enjoyed by adults and all the children and costs little!

6. Mind Yourself

Christmas is going to be an emotional time for you, therefore your ability to mind yourself will determine the degree to which you can mind your children. Take care of yourself at this time and be aware of trying to meet your own needs – for company, support, time out and a treat.

Failure to meet your own needs only results in your inability to meet your children’s needs – from a place where you are running on empty, where your battery needs recharging and where you end up cranky, irritable and impatient. See the warning signs and respond early to them, or even better: think in advance – how can I support myself this Christmas to ensure it’s a happy time for all the family?

7. Establish some new traditions this year

Children of all ages love to get together with friends and family around food and music. Plan an evening for extended family to have a get-together with a sing-song and some food. Keeping the old traditions does not mean you cannot build in some new traditions. A trip into the city on Christmas Eve is guaranteed to be enjoyed by all, for the carol singers and all the festive cheer.

8. Encourage contact

Encourage your children to phone/text the other parent over the Christmas period as it is an emotional time for all. If you are going to be alone on Christmas Day, organise to meet up with friends or family, maybe do something worthy, and don’t forget to treat yourself! Reassure your children you will be okay when they are not with you and that you have made plans and are busy or longing for some ‘me’ time.

Sheila O’Malley runs Practical Parenting, which gives help, support and training to parents. She offers one day courses which run monthly, parenting talks for schools and companies, talks on cyber bullying and in house corporate talks/workshops for working parents groups.

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