Think of the kids …

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - COVER STORY -

Ad­vice from Ti­mothy McMichael, New Zealand’s Me­di­a­tor of the Year 2017 and man­ager of the Fam­ily Works Res­o­lu­tion Ser­vice.

Is con­flict in­evitable at Christ­mas? If not, why does it feel like it?

The good news is that con­flict isn’t in­evitable! With a bit of plan­ning and ba­sic com­mu­ni­ca­tion most peo­ple can avoid con­flict.

If it seems con­flict will be in­evitable, what’s of­ten hap­pen­ing is that peo­ple are draw­ing on their own poor past ex­pe­ri­ences, and us­ing them to make as­sump­tions about the fu­ture. Big tip: judge each day on its own mer­its.

Christ­mas and New Year hol­i­days are not the best time to tell your part­ner you’re leav­ing them. For the sake of any kids, try not to have those con­ver­sa­tions un­til closer to school start­ing so the kids can en­joy most of their sum­mer hol­i­day.

What’s best prac­tice for cre­at­ing a con­flict-free Christ­mas?

Try not to have too many sur­prises, par­tic­u­larly those which might not go down as you in­tend. Be­fore say­ing some­thing, mak­ing a de­ci­sion, or even giv­ing some­one a gift, take a few mo­ments to re­flect on how the other per­son might re­spond.

What spe­cific ad­vice do you have for sep­a­rated par­ents forced to deal with ex-part­ners at Christ­mas gath­er­ings?

Talk about presents — agree a dol­lar value and try not to go above that. Don’t over­com­pen­sate by buy­ing ex­pen­sive gifts for the kids as a kind of apol­ogy. Con­sider buy­ing joint gifts.

Kids don’t nec­es­sar­ily like go­ing to two places. It’s dis­rup­tive and of­ten stops them en­joy­ing a full day with one par­ent. Be­ing dragged across town or even driv­ing to an­other city is not nec­es­sar­ily their idea of fun.

So con­sider swap­ping Christ­mas — one year with one par­ent, the next with the other.

When you are do­ing changeovers, it is prob­a­bly not a good idea to bring new part­ners or step-par­ents with you in the car, par­tic­u­larly if you have not told the kids first.

What should sep­a­rated par­ents do to help their chil­dren through po­ten­tially-fraught Christ­mas sit­u­a­tions?

Most im­por­tantly, pri­ori­tise your chil­dren. Con­tin­u­ally ask your­self, “If I was in my kid’s shoes right now, what would make the best pos­si­ble Christ­mas for me?” And, “What would I least like to hap­pen over the hol­i­day pe­riod?

How­ever you feel about your ex-part­ner, don’t bad­mouth them in front of the kids. It’s cruel — al­most a kind of child abuse. Chil­dren want, and need, to be able to love both par­ents, what­ever the grown-ups think of each other.

Don’t drink be­fore any han­dover and — above all — talk and talk and talk in ad­vance with your for­mer part­ner, so there are no sur­prises for your kids, or for you. And even if your for­mer part­ner doesn’t keep their side of the bar­gain, keep your cool in front of the kids and have it out with your for­mer part­ner later.

If preven­tion and con­flict man­age­ment doesn’t work, de­spite all our best ef­forts, what do we do af­ter things go wrong?

Ac­knowl­edge the is­sue with the other per­son. If you can, agree to park it un­til the New Year. Make a com­mit­ment to re­visit the is­sue with this per­son then — the is­sue may in any case have changed, sub­sided, or al­tered in some way, or even gone away. Time of­ten can be the very best healer.

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