Lifelines: Anne Chilton on Christmas preparations

The tinkling bells, fairy lights and bearded men in red suits seem to start earlier each year. If you aren't bumping into festive glittery things every time you step out the front door, then it's harassed shoppers laden down with bulging carrier bags.

Then there are the lists ... Often in the race to tick everything off we can delay the more difficult decisions. Decisions like where we are actually going to spend the big day, who we are going to spend it with and how much money we are able to spend on them. Addressing issues like these well in advance can help everything go more smoothly.


My partner and I have been together for 18 months and have just moved in together. We'd like to spend Christmas together on our own but our families have made it clear they expect us both to be with them. How can we sort this without upsetting anyone?

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The thing about Christmas is that every family has expectations and unless we say otherwise they will be expecting this one to be just like previous years. So, before the preparations and expectations get into full swing, you and your partner must decide what you would like to do. Then you both need to explain to your respective families that while you love spending time with them and know they will miss you being with them for the whole day, you also want to spend time together. Being clear now will cause a little disappointment; leaving it until the week before could cause a great deal.


I used to have a well-paid job and give my teenage nieces and nephews big presents. But earlier this year I gave it up to retrain as a nurse. This means my income is much less than it was. I saw my family last week and they were dropping hints about what they would like. I am dreading their reactions when I don't produce the goods.

You are assuming they expect big presents because that's what has happened before. Maybe they feel they have to drop hints because that's expected. You say you have a good relationship with your nieces and nephews, I wonder if you have talked to them about the changes in your life and how you have to do all sorts of things differently now. Buying big presents isn't the only way you can show you care. Giving them more of you and letting them know they are important to you might be the best gift they ever get.


My partner and I separated a few years ago. We have two children, aged ten and 12, and usually we end up splitting Christmas Day between us and their grandparents. It always ends up with a row, so this year I'd like to do something a little less stressed.

I wonder how your ex and children are feeling about the approach of the festive season? Maybe they are as concerned as you? Maybe they are just waiting for the opportunity to explore different options.It's hard to suggest doing things differently and people can get defensive at changes so it is important to allow space for everyone's views to be heard. Talking about it offers a chance for things to be different and for each of you to look at keeping the good bits and changing the stressful bits. Christmas is about families and enjoying being together not dreading it. Why not try working together to find a solution?

• Anne Chilton is a consultant in professional practice at Relationships Scotland (