It's no secret that children look forward to the holidays all year. The time is meant to be magical for them, complete with family, presents and holiday spirit.
But for some children, especially children of divorce, the holidays can feel especially stressful.
Parents want their children to enjoy the holidays, but sometimes the holidays can end up being bait for a contentious relationship to emerge. How will you divide the holidays with your ex? When will you get to see your child? Who else will be around your child in the other parent's home? What about the rest of the holiday break? What happens if you want to travel with your child? These are all very valid and very real concerns for parents who are looking forward to seeing their children during this special time of year.
What should you do?
- Without a doubt, make sure you have a co-parenting schedule for the holidays. If you don't have an agreement drafted and signed, contact an attorney to help you. Having definitive answers that are already agreed upon, and perhaps "ordered" by a court, can take away much of the uncertainty and conflict of the holidays, and can ensure that parenting time is equal. If you have an agreement on holiday access, but it is no longer feasible, try to discuss alternative options with your co-parent or have an attorney help you file a modification petition so that you can enjoy seeing your children on a schedule that works for you. Last-minute agreements or changes are often the cause of much distress for children, as is your children witnessing parents argue about who will see them and when. Try to preemptively take steps to minimize stress for your children by deciding these issues, in writing, ahead of time.
- Talk to the other parent about giving gifts. Gift-giving is typically an important part of the holiday season, especially for children. It is best if parents-and grandparents, when applicable-discuss gifts for the children. This can ensure no one buys the same gift for the child. It's also helpful if the types of gifts the children want and the things they need are distributed between the parents so one parent is not seen as the "fun" parent to the detriment of the other. Foster a feeling of appreciation and respect for both families during the holidays.
- Respect religious traditions. Another important aspect of the holidays for many families is religious traditions. If parents share the same religious beliefs, co-parenting may be more about who spends time with the children at religious events over the holidays. But when parents have differing beliefs, the issue may be more complex. If possible, try to respect the other parent's beliefs and allow time for the children to be with that parent for important religious events.
Of course, even the best intentions may not be enough if the other parent will not cooperate. Seeking modifications to the parenting plan is an option if trying to work together isn't feasible. Happy holidays!