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Thinking about gift and contact arrangements over the Christmas Period

Being a separated parent at Christmas is of course a concerning time, as you worry about who your child will spend Christmas Day with and what to plan to do within the holiday season.  What separated parents do not always consider is how gifts should be separated, how much they should spend on gifts, how they should speak about Santa and the types of gifts that are acceptable.

Most parents have the enormous challenge of managing the expectations of their excited child as they are presented with a usually long and expensive Christmas list, but for separated parents this can be even harder, especially if there is a significant difference in financial stability. This can lead to a child receiving lots of expensive presents from one parent and getting fewer gifts from the other. This may lead the child to favour being at one parent’s house on Christmas Day, when in reality this should not be the reason that a child wants to spend Christmas Day at a parent’s house. Therefore, it is important that separated parents can speak with each other about what they are buying their child.

These discussions could include considering a price limit for both parents and suggesting what each parent should purchase so that the child does not receive multiple of the same gift. To do this it may be helpful to ask the child to write a list to Santa and then between the parents decide on who can buy each gift. Another option would be for the child to write two lists, but this may be difficult with younger children who believe in Santa and writing multiple lists would take the magic away and they may also put the same items on each list. For older children, this strategy may be achievable, but again it would be helpful for parents to set a price range, especially if they have decided to give their child a voucher or cash for Christmas.

The type of presents should also be discussed. For example, one parent may be happy to buy their child toy guns, but the other parent may be strongly against this. It could even be that one parent recognises that the child has a lot of a certain range of toys, such as Lego, and that they do not need any more of this currently. It could be useful to share these concerns so that both parents are on the same page.

Another common worry for all parents is how to explain why some children receive lots of presents from Santa but other children do not. It should be agreed on why this is the case so that the child understands this unfortunate reality. One idea is to say that the parents send money to Santa and that is what Santa uses to decide on their gifts. Another idea is to give only one present from Santa and the rest from themselves. Both parents should agree on the same explanation as this would otherwise be confusing if all the presents in one house came from Santa but only one did at their other parent’s home.

The main concern for separated parents is agreeing on the arrangements for Christmas Day. Every separated couple will do this in their own way, but we do have a few suggestions to hopefully reduce the tension surrounding this challenging decision. Often one arrangement is to alternate who get the child on Christmas Day. If this is not desirable however, it could be that maybe Christmas Eve and half of Christmas Day is spent at one parent’s home. The child could then enjoy waking up at that parent’s home and opening presents with them. However, they also have the excitement of going to the other parents’ house in the afternoon and for Boxing Day. Clearly Christmas dinner could be a concern here. Maybe the child could have two dinners but obviously this would be extremely filling. If the child woke up at one parent’s house, they could have Christmas dinner at the other parent’s home.

A further suggestion is for one Parent to have the child on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and for the other parent to have Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve. It is important to realise with any arrangement that it should be fair and preferably should be alternated so that both parents can spend time on Christmas Day with their child at some point.

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