Many parents wish that they could have more time each day, week or month with their children and this is often highlighted on special occasions throughout the year. One in four children see their non-primary parent less than once a year or never, and 51% of children do not have overnight stays with their ‘spend-time-with parent’, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies. The vast majority of divorced and separated families find navigating parenting arrangements stressful, frustrating and anxiety provoking.
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Nowadays, parenting orders and plans allow for children to spend some time or the day with each parent on special occasions like Father’s/Mother’s Day, holidays, Christmas and birthdays. Yet for many others, it hasn’t been addressed or considered prior to now. Rachael Scharrer, divorce expert and founder of DivorceAnswered.com.au, shares some tips for navigating special occasions for yourself and your child.
Acknowledging the other parent for the child’s benefit.
The Family Court encourages a meaningful relationship with both parents. Putting the feelings and desires of your child first is the priority. If your parenting plan or agreement doesn’t cater for special occasions, try to put what your child wants as the focus of the day (provided that the wellbeing and safety of the child is maintained). Either request (if you are the parent without scheduled access) or offer for the child to enjoy a little time with their other parent. Perhaps meet for a quick coffee if it is not the scheduled day. In the least, and provided it is possible, allow the child to call their parent’s and wish him well on the special day. You may be pleased by the warm reception you receive by making a relatively small gesture to the other parent.
If you are the parent who would like to be celebrating with your child
You need to reach out and make it known to the other parent as soon as possible that you would like some time with your child. Request a phone call, request some time at the park or in a café, either alone with the child for a limited time or with the other parent (or nominated adult) present. No matter what the outcome is, both parents are reminded to be respectful, polite and child-focused. While Father’s or Mother’s Day sounds like it is all about the ‘parent,’ it is really all about the child, how they view the day, their current relationship with the parent and how the child wants to spend their day. Remember to consult the child if they are at an age where they can clearly express an opinion.
Periodically, as circumstances change and as children get older, parenting plans need revising and updating.
Your Family Lawyer can always review and offer amendments. Should you need a legally binding plan, you will need to lodge it with the Family Court and have it made into an Order.
Find a substitute father/mother/family at special occasions.
Creating your own tradition at special occasions becomes of greater importance when there is an absent parent. No doubt there are amazing people already in your child’s life that you can always recognise and be grateful for during these dates. You may consider their grandparents, uncle/aunt, neighbour, family friends, GP, dentist and teachers. It is important to still celebrate so that your child feels included and important on the special occasion and has something to share or talk about when asked what they did on that day.
Remember that your child is part of both parents.
When you criticise or denigrate the other parent, you are also putting down part of your child. By making some effort, recognising special occasions (even the other parent’s birthday) and positively supporting your child, you are teaching them how to respectfully co-parent and make the best out of a situation that may not be ideal (for you, your ex-partner or for your child). Your child will look back in the years to come and appreciate both of their parents working together and prioritising the needs and feelings of the child.