Often, tensions escalate over the holidays as divorced parents struggle with the demands of scheduling the children to accommodate two households. Holiday schedules are already difficult without the complications of a divorce judgment or divorce proceeding.
Here are some practical tips in dealing with holiday parenting time gleaned from divorce lawyers around the state.
- Reduce an alternating holiday schedule to a court order. It is always best for the children when the parents can agree on a schedule. Alternating holidays is most common when drafting the parenting schedule. When both parents live close to one another, many families utilize a shared holiday model where the children spend time with one parent until noon, and the other parent for the balance of the day; then the next year, they switch. This works for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day and other holidays.
- Discuss the schedule with the children. One solid co-parenting tactic is for both parents, once an agreement is reached, to communicate the schedule to the children. This way, the children know in advance what to expect. This can best be accomplished when both parents commit to rational communication and reasonable compromise for the children's sake.
- Keep the activities simple. This tip is particularly essential when the children are relatively young and if the divorce is still fresh. The wounds of the once-whole family have yet to heal; holidays are particularly painful for both children and parents. Therefore, it makes sense to tone down the activities and avoid rushing hither and yon during your now-scheduled parenting time.
- Let your child express her feelings to you. It is important to allow your children the opportunity to express their feelings of loss and disappointment and for you, as the parent, to validate those feelings. What the child once experienced as an intact family unit has been fractured by divorce. Therefore, pretending that everything is fine, or over-scheduling a whirlwind of activities to the point of distraction, will only add to the stress of your holiday parenting time.
- Involve your extended family. The more love the child feels during the years immediately following a divorce, the better. Therefore, schedule some quality family time with members of your extended family. Certainly, this would be a great opportunity for your children to spend time with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. If your extended family is highly dysfunctional then, er, not-so-much.
- Avoid including a new "significant other". This is the last thing you want to do at the holidays; not the time or the place. Including your "significant other" too soon is a selfish thing to do to your children. Upon reflection, you would probably agree that you would be doing that for yourself, certainly not for your children. Children of divorce already struggle with guilt, a sense of loss, and insecurity. They often perceive the introduction of a stranger, especially one that is close and intimate with their parent, as a threat, not a benefit from their parents' divorce.
Post Note: For another local attorney's take on this subject, take a look at our friend, Henry Gornbein's post in the Huffington Post Divorce Blog.