CHRISTMAS has always been a complicated affair for Megan Towns.
Growing up in a separated family, she had to wait until the age of nine before her first experience of spending Christmas with both birth parents.
"It was when I was nine that we started making everyone come to Christmas... there was no ifs, no buts - everyone had to make it," Ms Towns said.
While the family Christmas ideal might be a picture perfect family sitting down to share a meal, the modern reality is not so simple.
With roughly 20% of families on the Northern Rivers listed as single-parented in the 2011 Census, Christmas can be painful and confusing - or at the very least chaotic.
But for Ms Towns, Christmas is all about family seeing family - whatever the emotional and practical complications.
Now that she is also separated from the father of her two teenage sons, Brodie and Jayden, Christmas can include up to five separate family branches all coming together over 24 hours.
But the family somehow makes it work. "Over the years it's blending a lot better," Ms Towns said.
"If there is a bit of awkwardness or if someone's not talking to someone else, it all just fits in the one lounge room," she smiled.
"It's all about making sure the kids get to see both their parents."
Family law expert Heather McKinnon said the first holiday season after a separation or divorce was often difficult and families needed to plan ahead with the best interests of the children in mind.
"Parents often feel guilty that they can't lavish their children with expensive gifts because of post-separation financial pressures, but what we see from our clients is that children care much more about time with both their parents than money."
TIPS FOR A CONFLICT-FREE SEASON
Make sure your holiday plans are clear and agreed to by both parents - write them down if necessary.
Separate any feelings of guilt and loss from the child's need to see their other parent.
Seek counselling if you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Review any court orders to make sure your plans comply.
SIMPLE WAYS TO MINIMISE HOUSEHOLD WASTE
CHRISTMAS is a time for celebration, but it's also famous for excess.
We all know the frenzy of the festive season and the surplus consumption it brings.
Australians are predicted to spend more than $10 billion on food in December, yet 35% of what we send to landfill is food waste.
Recycling advocate Planet Ark's website report revealed that within Lismore City Council alone last December, searches for food scrap recycling advice soared by 686%.
To reduce waste this Christmas and think clearly about consumption, here are some festive tips:
- Buy good quality decorations that can be re-used - or make your own.
- Give low-impact gifts such as experiences or practical, durable items that meet a need.
- Use paper wrapping (rather than foil or plastic) then re-use or recycle it.
- Prevent food wastage - only open what you need, serve smaller portions, store and use left-overs.
- Compost or worm farm your unavoidable food scraps.
- Flatten aluminium cans, and boxes to save space in your recycling bin.
- Recycle old mobile phones, TVs, computers or printer cartridges.
- Give a recharger pack with any battery-operated gifts - it'll save money and reduce the gift's impact.
PLAN WHEN GIVING PETS AS GIFTS
CHRISTMAS is meant to be a very merry time of year for everyone, so don't let beloved pets slip your mind.
Richmond Valley Council's general manager John Walker said it was important that dog owners ensure pets are securely confined to their property or on a leash when in public as wandering animals maybe become lost, injured, or become the cause of another accident.
He said if not micro-chipped, a wandering dog may find itself spending Christmas at the pound.
"It's also the time of year for puppies and kittens to make perfect gifts for family and friends," he said.
"If you do wish to gift an animal, please think of the Casino Pound, where many dogs and cats, puppies, kittens and adults are waiting. "And of course, ensure that the recipient of the gift is ready to take on the responsibility of pet ownership.
"It's a sad reality that at this time of year, along with all animal welfare groups resources being stretched, too many animals are accommodated at the Casino Pound.
"If homes can't be found for these animals, council has no other option but to consider euthanasia for long-term stayers."