Your guide to navigating a separation over the Christmas period.
According to Facebook data compiled by British researchers David McCandles and Lee Byron, the two weeks leading up to Christmas are the second most popular time of year for couples to break up. The financial pressure of buying gifts and paying for holidays coinciding with the period many workers have a break in income can exacerbate underlying issues. This is before we consider the added emotional stress of planning and hosting visits from family and friends. It’s clear to see how the December mayhem is enough to push families to their breaking point. And when a holiday season separation does occur as so often is the case – how do you know what to do? Life must go on. Here’s our guide on how to manage.
How to cope with the stress of separation
A separation is a huge life shift, understandably you are going to feel some type of strain adjusting.
No matter the time of year, prepare to give yourself at least 18 months to heal and don’t be surprised if it takes longer than this. As a parent, it is important that you take care of yourself at this time so you’re able to be there for your children when they need you.
Tips to looking after yourself through a holiday season separation:
- Continue to check-in with a friend or family member who will give you honest feedback, especially on whether you are making rational and well thought out decisions
- Make proper sleep a priority. Shifts in sleeping patterns are normal throughout a breakup but if the problem persists, consult a doctor or healthcare professional
- Talk to your support network about what you’re feeling, not the children. Support them, don’t ask them to support you
- Ensure you continue to eat properly. Lack of proper nutrition will leave you feeling moody and lethargic
Consider the children
Children involved in separations are often the ones who suffer the most.
In 2017, 47.1% of Australian divorces involved children aged under 18 years. To steer clear of inflicting unnecessary trauma to young children, it’s important that you make every effort to protect them from conflict during this time of uncertainty.
While some kids are able to talk about their feelings, younger children will show how they feel through their behaviour. Older kids might let you know that they feel angry, powerless and that they are mourning the loss of the family unit. Younger children who have previously been confident and calm may seem anxious and want to stay close to parents or guardians. Some kids may get angry or get into fights more often than usual, while others try to be really good and please the adults close to them.
If one parent or guardian has moved out, it’s pretty common for kids to feel anxious that the other adult may leave too. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a sense of stability and reassure kids that regardless of what’s happening between the adults in the family, you’ll be there for them unconditionally. Think about Christmas as a day children cherish and are likely to remember. While your normal holiday season traditions may not be possible, consider ways to introduce new ones with a positive demeanour.
Tips for making the transition easier for children:
- Keep their routine as normal as possible and explain any changes that will affect them. Make sure they know where they’ll live, where they will go to school and what will happen during the school holidays. Remain positive about the future when explaining
- Make sure they understand why you have separated, without blaming yourself or your ex-partner
- Keep disagreements between you and your former partner separate from the rest of the family
- If your kids are struggling with the situation, talking about things with a health professional can help
- Never use the children as go-betweens. Don’t ask your children to deliver messages to the other parent or say negative things about the other parent. This is damaging to the child and reflects badly on you – children find it very difficult to deliver messages and don’t want to be drawn into fights
- Let significant others know what is happening, such as the child’s school, class teacher and the parents of their friends. They can help to keep an eye on how your children are coping
Are you safe?
The most important consideration you will make in a family break up will be assessing whether you and your children are safe.
Whether you choose to leave the shared family home, town or state, or to stay put until the new year, the possibility of the other parent’s reactionary measures should be weighed up. If the partner disagrees on the separation or has shown a tendency for aggression or violence before, you should seriously consider leaving. If you or your children are at risk of immediate harm, contact the police. They can provide knowledgeable advice and guidance through such a difficult decision. In an emergency do not hesitate to call 000.
Legalities in Queensland
If you’ve experienced domestic violence you can ask the court for a domestic violence protection order, forcing the other person to leave the home.
A person can’t be forced to leave a house they own in their own name or jointly unless the court has made a sole use and occupation order or a domestic violence protection order.
If there is a domestic violence protection order against you and it says you must not be at your home, then you have to leave. You should obey the order and get legal advice.
If you have to leave you won’t lose your rights to the house or your possessions. You may be able to return at a later time. You should think about the safety of you and your children first, seek legal advice for clarification of your rights.
Seek mediation sooner rather than later
Mediation will help you move forward both as an individual and as a family.
With the Christmas period being such an intense time of year with so many significant days for children to celebrate falling in the one month, it is important to be able to communicate effectively with your ex-partner on how best to plan each day.
Keep in mind children need to see the other parent.
It’s in your children’s best interests to maintain their relationship with their other parent or guardian. Whatever’s happening between the adults of the family, you both need to respect each other’s individual relationship with your kids. Avoid bad-mouthing your former partner, and try and be flexible in dealing with co-parenting arrangements and logistics for the best possible outcome.