The Way We are Now – “Happy Families?”

Relate Nottinghamshire prepares for New Year peak in calls

Local relationships charity Relate Nottinghamshire is preparing for a peak in calls this New Year as relationship tensions between families and couples come to a head over the festive period.  This comes as leading national charities, Relate and Relationships Scotland publish their Happy Families? report which shows that step-family relationships and families with young children are under particular pressure.

Relate received a 39% increase in calls in January 2016.* The charity says this is a trend they see every year and staff are bracing themselves for another busy January.

Meanwhile, the Happy Families? report found that 41% of people with a child under 19 said money worries were a strain on their relationship, compared to 26% of those without a child under 19.** And 26% of parents with a child under 19 reported household chores as a strain on their relationship compared to just 16% of those with no child under 19. Among parents of very young children, however, this jumped up considerably: almost a third (32%) of parents of children aged 0-5 identified household chores as a relationship strain.

Happily, the report, which analyses a survey of more than 5,000 UK adults and is sponsored by family solicitors Simpson Millar, also found that more than eight in ten people (81%) reported a good relationship with their mums and three quarters (75%) reported a good relationship with their dads. However, relationships between step-parents and step-children aren’t as plain-sailing. For example, 61% of step-parents reported good relationships with their step-children in contrast to the 91% who reported good relationships with their own children.

Relate counsellor, Alison Towner, Clinical Supervisor at Relate Nottinghamshire says that these pressures can become intensified during the Christmas period, contributing to a surge of people seeking relationship support in the New Year. She said: “The new report shows that money worries and place a particular strain on the relationships of couples with children under 19 and that for parents of under-fives, household chores are a real pressure point. With the added financial burden of Christmas and the work that goes into preparing the home and tidying up afterwards, it’s no wonder that rows and tears during this period are common.

“These findings also indicate some of the challenges families can face following the breakdown of a relationship and blending families. Step-mums can feel pressure to be maternal and are more likely to face rejection from their step-children, and step-kids can find themselves caught between biological parents and new family members. Christmas can be a time when all these issues come to the surface. If you’re experiencing any difficulties, we’d urge you to contact Relate Nottinghamshire at the earliest possible stage.”

Relate isn’t the only organisation which sees a peak in calls in the New Year. Simpson Millar also get much busier and find this is when a lot of divorces are initiated: Peter Morris, National Head of Family Law at Simpson Millar, added: “The seasonal spike in enquiries is a reality for professionals dealing with relationship breakdown. There are in fact two spikes, peaking after winter and summer holidays. This is not to say holidays cause divorce; it just shows a correlation between divorce and the post-holiday seasons. Help is out there and all responsible family lawyers would encourage couples experiencing relationship breakdown to contact Relate whatever the season.”

Happy Families? is the second in a series of reports from a major piece of research by Relate and Relationships Scotland.  Over 5000 UK adults were surveyed as part of The Way We Are Now study, providing a unique window into the current state of the nation’s relationships. To read the report in full, please visit https://www.relate.org.uk/policy-campaigns/publications/happy-families (from 7th December).

Here are Relate Nottinghamshire tips for keeping the peace this Christmas:

  • Take it slowly. If it is the first Christmas in a new family set up then remember that you have to allow time for adjustments to settle in. Don’t expect everything to be ideal – manage your own expectations and disappointments.
  • Don’t overspend. For a lot of people this Christmas money will be tight, so try not to succumb to the pressure and spend more than you can afford. Splashing the credit card on presents might be fun but getting yourself in a mountain of debt is not a good way to start the New Year. Money worries put huge strain on relationships – it’s not worth it in the long run.
  • Plan ahead. Getting some of the jobs done ahead of time means everyone will be less stressed, and planning the festivities as a family is likely to make sure everyone feels like their hopes and expectations are being listened to. In particular, talk to your partner in advance about where you plan to spend Christmas so it’s not a shock to anyone come Christmas Eve.
  • Talk to your children. If you are a single parent, talk to your child about who they want to spend time with over the holidays. Christmas is important to children but they can easily feel divided and guilty about who they spend time with and worried in case anyone is left on their own. Do talk to your ex-partner first though to determine what they are doing. Asking the children first can lead to disappointment, and remember, depending on the age of the children, they may not be able to make such decision’s.
  • Plan something special. If arguments are likely over the festive period, have a few special events that everyone knows about so you have things to look forward to. It might be decorating the tree, or hanging the stockings up. The important thing is that you agree that these things will go ahead, and everyone makes the effort to get along.
  • Don’t spoil the step-kids: If you have step-children staying at Christmas, do treat them like part of the family but not like special guests.  Relationships take time to build and making the step-children into VIPs may appear insincere or upset your own children.
  • Go easy on the booze. We all like to toast Christmas with a nice glass or two, but if there is any tension in your family then steer clear of too much alcohol, it will only aggravate the situation.

Relate Nottinghamshire offers a range of relationship support services, including couple counselling and family counselling. Call us on 01159 584278 or visit www.relate-nottingham.org.uk for more information.

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