December 5, 2021

How estranged parents can help their children’s festive season shine

By guest blogger – Relationship Counsellor Karen Palmer

After the challenges of a COVID restricted festive season last year, many people are looking forward to a “normal” celebration this year – lots of get togethers with family and friends, lots of fun and generally a happy time all round.

Spare a thought, however, for those people for whom this time of year, every year, can be particularly difficult and emotionally challenging.  Specifically, I mean those families where parents have separated, leaving the question about who do the children go to over the festive period, and all the associated practical and emotional issues around this. 

There is no doubt that children can, and will, pick up on tensions between their parents. Those that already feel unsettled by their family dynamics starting to look different, can sometimes feel worried that they may be seen to be favouring one parent if they spend Christmas Day with one and not the other. 

They can then feel guilty and responsible for the one that is not with them on the day.  There can be the possibility that parents try to “outdo” each other with gifts and showing their children a good time.  Extended family, whilst well meaning, can add to the stress for both parents and children.

The good news is that it does not have to be like this.  Despite differences between separating couples, regardless of the reasons, there is a valid argument for taking the drama out of the situation and finding a way forward that relies on communication, compromise and setting boundaries. 

For the mental well being of both the adults and the children involved, planning  ahead and setting time aside to look at respective expectations and how these can be met, can prove invaluable. Finding yourself in a middle of a situation with no forward planning (or last minute disorganised planning) can feel difficult and unsettling. 

When everyone understands what has been agreed (and sticks to it), things tend to run more smoothly and nobody is then left to feel that they had no control over the situation.

The key to all of the above, however, is communication.  Obviously, in some situations, everything can feel very “raw” (especially if the separation is recent or has been acrimonious).  If it feels too difficult to speak together by yourselves, it can be useful to involve an impartial third party to help facilitate those conversations. 

This can be a family law firm, a mediator or a relationship counsellor.  It is very important that you find the right person for both of you.  This should allow you a safe space for each of you to feel heard and to be able to speak honestly and constructively. 

Karen Palmer, a Relate trained Counsellor who provides relationship counselling for clients who are married, in a relationship, single, separated or divorced, can be contacted on, Tel: 07899708563, or

For queries on children law, divorce or family law related issues, call Jones Myers at Leeds on 0113 246 0055, Harrogate on 01423 276104, or York on 01904 202550. Visit, email or tweet us @helpwithdivorce