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Tips for avoiding nasty rows with extended family and exes at Christmas

For those who share their children with an ex or simply have an unbearable relative, Christmas is the time for "courageous conversations", a dispute resolution expert told TVNZ1's Breakfast today as she shared tips for surviving the season.

Not surprisingly, says FairWay Resolution client director Keri Morris, this is the Government-funded dispute management service's busiest time of the year.

"There's a lot of hope and expectation around Christmas Day, and so it's thinking about Christmas as not just one day - it's the Christmas season," she said, offering advice for mixed families who haven't yet discussed how the day will go down.

"And so it's listening and bringing people together, and saying, 'What can we do this year to share our children?'" she said. "Always, parents need to work collaboratively with their ex. We work with parents to hear both sides of the story, and hear what their children want and help them make a plan."

FairWay Resolution is available over the phone, online and in person, and it's free for many families. But there are ways people can avoid having to use the service in the first place, she said.

"We've got the three Cs, which is communicate, concentrate and collaborate," she said.

"So communicate: Start thinking early. Start planning in advance. Front-foot the conversation. Don't wait until the week before Christmas to have this conversation. Talk to your ex. Talk to your children. Talk to people involved in your family.

"Concentrate: Focus on moving forward with the plan that you've got. Don't think about the past - the stuff that's gone wrong between the two of you. Focus on your kids and moving forward.

"And collaborate. Co-parenting is an ongoing thing. It's not just for Christmas Day. It's all the things that you've got to do together as parents."

But Christmas disputes aren't just for mixed families, she said. And that's also where "courageous conversations" come into play, she said.

"It might be an auntie who every time you see her at Christmas, [says], 'Oh, haven't you put on the weight this year, love,'" Ms Morris explained. "And you know that's going to happen because it's happened every year for the past five years. And that makes you feel ill and embarrassed and humiliated.

"So how do you deal with that? You could have a big blow up in front of everybody - 'What an awful auntie you are!' - and all the children see that and it just ruins relationships. Or you could have a courageous conversation before you go to Christmas.

"So a month before give your auntie a call and say, 'Hey, you know it really upsets me and hurts me how you say that'. And do that in a calm way and a safe way, one-on-one."

While it's difficult to have those conversations, they save families from having to turn to her service during what can be a stressful time of the year, she said.

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Not surprisingly, this is Fairway Resolutions’ busiest time of the year, Keri Morris tells Breakfast. Source: Breakfast


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