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It's time to put children first

Edinburgh Evening News
23 December 2010

It's time to put children first

By Gina Davidson

AMIDST all the seasonal revelry and familial contentment (and the odd spat and tantrum) that comes with Christmas Day, could I recommend that you catch the animated version of Oliver Jeffers' children's story Lost and Found at some point?

The tale of a lonely boy and an even lonelier penguin who become friends is remarkably touching, beautifully drawn, and ultimately uplifting.
But the bigger question it's always raised for me is just why the boy is so self-contained and so very lonely. There are no other characters in the story, child or adult, sibling or parent. And unlike the Charlie and Lola stories where the parents are never seen but always referenced, Lost and Found's lack of a single mention of a mother or father makes me imagine that there's only one, no doubt extremely busy, parent at home.

Being a single parent at Christmas is tough. But then so must it be for the parent who doesn't get to see their child that day. And how tough then for the child whose Christmases would all come at once if only Santa could make his or her parents kiss and make up?

Of course such things only happen in Disney fairytales, and for many kids whose parents are separated or divorced, Christmas Day will be spent with just the one. If they're lucky they might just get to see the other for an hour or so, or maybe at least talk to them on the phone.

Which ultimately means that many parents and let's face it the majority will be fathers will be on their own at the one time of year when the world seems to revolve around family. Is it any surprise then that for them, this time of year causes nothing but hurt, anger and frustration especially when as one father told me: "You expect to see your child, you have the build up of anticipation and excitement, and then by text, by the whim of her mother, you're told it's not convenient."?

Another Edinburgh dad, Mark, told me how he dreads Christmas. "My son is always so excited about it, and used to ask if I could visit, he even asked Santa one year if I could come and visit with him. But his mother won't allow me to see him during Christmas. I usually get an hour on Boxing Day, but she waits outside with her boyfriend and almost always arranges to take him ice-skating so he's understandably excited about that. Christmas just makes my separation from my son almost too painful to bear."

Yet another, Eddie says: "I maybe get an hour with them on Christmas Day. They are so excited and love the Christmas thing, but I just have this knot in my stomach. I hate Christmas. It makes me feel so lonely and not part of this family gathering experience everyone else seems to have."
Such stories can't fail to tug at the heartstrings. Of course there will be many reasons, some good, some not so, why these families are no longer one unit. But whatever they are, and as long as they do not involve the physical safety of anyone involved, surely at Christmas it's time to rise above the sometimes petty squabbles that can surround access arrangements?

Certainly Christmas-time throws the idea of shared parenting, which is the campaign cornerstone of Families Need Fathers, into sharp relief. The idea that one parent should have the upper hand when it comes to having time with children is something which belongs in the past. Shared parenting, the idea that both parents deserve respect and want to put the interests of their children first, is an idea very much of the future.

As FNF puts it, if one parent doesn't have a veto over their children's contact with the other there's a better chance they will get around to behaving reasonably with each other.

Christmas, after all, is a time for children. If it would make them happy to see both parents at some point on Christmas Day, even if sitting down and pulling the turkey wishbone together is out of the question, then it cannot be beyond the reasoning of adults to be able to come to some kind of accommodation.

But for those who won't see their children it's always good to hold on to the fact that when you do see them, they will remember the time they have with you, whether it's Christmas Day or any other.
Share the festive spirit

IT'S not just divorced parents who will be spending time alone though. According to new research by Tesco, one in six people will celebrate Christmas without family.

Which is why around 53 per cent of those surveyed said that getting a call from a loved one would make their day, even if it was just to be asked how to cook the turkey.

So perhaps now is as good a time as any to find out if the Big Society works. If you know someone who's going to be lonely this Christmas perhaps you could invite them round to pull a cracker? That would be the true spirit of Christmas.

But however you spend it, I hope you have a wonderful, festive time.

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