Christmas is suddenly just around the corner. For intact families, the festive season means a day or two of slightly forced family-focused fun and a chance to indulge, perhaps with a side-order of squabbling and stress. But for parents who live apart from their children, the stakes may be a little higher. For many people in that position, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without seeing the kids – and that can be tricky if they have to negotiate with another parent just as keen to have them around for the big day. This tension might mean extended discussions … and unfortunately arguments between separated parents who struggle to get along.

But that’s in an ordinary year – and as we are all just a little too aware, 2020 is no ordinary year. Now separated parents have the additional pressures imposed by Covid-19 to contend with. Seeing or not seeing your children is no longer just a matter of synchronising diaries: now infection risks have to be factored in as well.

Although the government has made it clear that existing child contact arrangements should continue during the pandemic, they have also encouraged parents to take sensible steps to minimise the risk of spreading infection – for example, respecting quarantines, avoiding unnecessary journeys, and minimising the use of public transport. They have also stressed that while contact can still take place, it doesn’t have to. If one parent has a legitimate concern about infection risks from ordinary contact arrangements, they can and should raise those concerns. In the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, sensible co-parents will keep the lines of communication open and be willing to compromise.

If you are a separated parent, make sure you are clear about the Covid-19 restrictions which apply to your area, as well as well as the area in which your children live if that is different. When the second national lockdown ended, we returned to a three-tier system – ‘medium alert’, ‘high alert’, and ‘very high alert’. It is an unfortunate sign of the times that most of the country has been placed in the latter two tiers. A full list of the restrictions for each area is available here.

Note, however, that these rules will change again over Christmas itself. In its announcement, the government explained that:

“The festive period is an important time for many people of all faiths and none who come together over the holidays. The UK Government and Devolved Administrations recognise that people will want to be with their friends and family over Christmas, particularly after an incredibly difficult year.”

Between the 23rd and 27th December, people can form a so-called “Christmas bubble” with a maximum of two other households. You will be able to meet with members of your bubble in private homes, places of worship or outdoor public spaces.

This temporary relaxation should allow the children of separated parents to move back and forth between their parents’ two homes a little more easily than might otherwise have been the case – and this should certainly be factored into your discussions with the other parent.

Of course there will still be a need for sensible caution and a willingness to compromise while we open presents and cook our turkeys. To quote the government announcement:

“When following these new rules, we must each continue to take personal responsibility to limit the spread of the virus and protect our loved ones, particularly if they are vulnerable. For many, this will mean that it isn’t possible to celebrate Christmas in the way you normally would.”

Image by Sergio Cabezas via Flickr (Creative Commons)