The emotive side of Christmas sadly puts children in the thick of family conflict at a time when they are meant to be wrapt up in joyful celebration, writes Director Dale West in The Advertiser today.
IT’S the Christmas clause once-happy families did not envisage: conducting child handover in a police station on Christmas Day.
My friend’s granddaughter spent two of her first four Christmases in the company of police, under Family Court order.
For her fifth Christmas, the girl asked the man in the red suit to “make the blue people go away”. She knew they kept her safe but she didn’t understand why.
The emotive side of Christmas sadly puts children in the thick of family conflict at a time when they are meant to be wrapt up in joyful celebration. As parents we have a choice: Do we put ourselves first, or our children?
Demand for formal family dispute resolution soars this time every year, as parents argue about where their children will wake on Christmas morning and sleep that night.
For parents who have not planned ahead, or have missed the court’s cut-off date to file non-urgent applications for holiday parenting orders, tension mounts.
Children may miss out on seeing one parent altogether, and others may not be returned home on time – if at all – prompting Australian Federal Police involvement.
BBC One’s short film The Supporting Act is a reminder of what’s important.
The film celebrates Christmas as a time to come together to share experiences and special moments.
Through its depiction of a working dad and his dancing 10-year-old daughter, the animated movie explores how pressures of life can seemingly get in the way of the things that matter, especially at Christmas.
The father seems distracted in the lead-up to his daughter’s performance – until she freezes on stage, and he steps out of the crowd to guide her through the moves.
We could do worse than to follow the film’s cues, in merry measure.
No matter the demands on your personal, work and family life, try and keep your child’s welfare as your highest priority.
Even if a parent is absent due to domestic violence, incarceration, or there is a court order preventing contact with the family, avoid making your emotions part of your child’s Christmas experience – they have enough to deal with.
Talk about things in an even-tone, matter-of-fact way – and be flexible. Respect family traditions too. Who instigated them is irrelevant if they are important to your child.
When your children see you calmly leading the family through challenges, they will feel safe.
With careful consideration, we can bring the focus of Christmas back where it belongs.
Dale West is DIRECTOR OF CENTACARE FAMILY SERVICES
*Centacare provides support to families requiring mediation to deal with issues of separation. The service is available in metropolitan and regional South Australia. For more information, visit Family Dispute Resolution