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Time with parents is a right of the child, not of the parents – just don’t go quoting a UN convention at Christmas

For parents who don’t live with their children, this is the time of year when they need to think about how Christmas can be celebrated

For parents who live apart from their children, this is the time of year when they need to think about Christmas, if that’s an occasion their family celebrates.

About one in every six children in Ireland lives in a one-parent household. We can assume the vast majority of these children have a non-resident parent who is involved with them to a greater or lesser extent, and that, in most cases, this is the father.

We can also assume the vast majority of these families celebrate Christmas. For most of the children, this is a happy time thanks to the efforts of both biological parents. But it isn’t necessarily simple or without its tensions.

“It may seem a bit early to talk about Christmas,” writes Geraldine Kelly, One Family’s director of parenting, on its website. “But when it comes to making the plan for sharing parenting at Christmas, the earlier you talk about it the better.”


One Family began life in 1972 as Cherish, so it has had more than half a century of experience of dealing with, among other things, the issue of navigating Christmas.

In my experience, flashpoints can concentrate on Christmas Day or even on the three days of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day. But Kelly writes that “children usually don’t just recall one day when they think of Christmas, it is normally the whole holiday period”. This gives parents at least 10 days to work with when figuring out what involvement each parent will actually have and where and when.

In most cases, the planning goes smoothly enough, it seems to me.

But that’s not always the case and it’s important for all concerned to remember that time with parents is a right of the child, not of the parents. That’s according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Quoting a UN convention may not get you very far. It may be more helpful for both parents to remember that the child’s feelings deserve at least as much consideration as those of the parents. This doesn’t mean the children get everything they want but their feelings should be known and considered.

As Kelly writes: “As parents, you are creating memories for your child.”

A way to find out what they would like is to “ask children to visualise what they would like Christmas to look like. Do not make promises; just tell them you want to hear what they have to say so you, as parents, can keep this in mind when agreeing a plan for them.”

Then you need to negotiate and compromise with the other parent.

I think this paragraph from her article is especially wise: “Create your own traditions. It doesn’t matter what you did as a child at Christmas, this is your time now to create your traditions for your new family form. What would you like to create for your child? What memories do you want for your child? What would you like them to take forward in life with them from Christmas?”

If the parents are too conflicted to be able to be able to work out these arrangements themselves, it may be that a relative or a mutual friend could help.

Is it possible to arrange for both parents to be present on Christmas Day when gifts are opened, even though it might be a sad occasion for some? Perhaps Zoom or FaceTime might come to the rescue? Perhaps the children could open presents from one of their parents in their grandparents’ home?

Most mothers are anxious, in my experience, for the non-resident father to have an involvement with the children at Christmas.

In some cases, though, it will not be possible to work anything out. A non-resident parent (father or mother) who is completely excluded can still send a present, a card, or a text.

And the day will come, sooner than you might think, when the children will be able to make up their own minds about all of this.

  • Padraig O’Morain (Instagram,Twitter: @padraigomorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His books include Kindfulness - a guide to self compassion; his daily mindfulness reminder is available free by email (