What could be more stressful than the holidays? Try getting through the holidays if you are a divorced or separated parent. This is especially true for those parents who have trouble with their ex-spouse during the rest of the year.Conflict is often exacerbated between separated parents during the holiday season. Oftentimes, though, the tension and conflict can be avoided by following a few do’s and don’ts.
1. Do review your custody order ahead of time. If you have a custody order or agreement, check it now. Commonly, holidays are rotated annually. For example, the mother would have Christmas Day in the even years and the father would have Christmas Day in the odd years. Your order may also provide the pickup and drop-off times. Yet, parents fail to review these orders or agreements until it is too late, after they have made plans for the children. If your order is ambiguous or you are not sure who had what holiday last year, communicate with the other parent and see if you can reach an agreement so there is no confusion on the actual holiday.
2. Do try to work it out with the other parent. If your order or agreement is silent as to the holiday time, or you do not have an order, try to reach an agreement either directly with the other parent or though attorneys. As a last resort, you can attempt to go to court to have a judge resolve the issue; however, it is unlikely that you will get in front of a judge before the holidays. Consider using mediation as a means to reach an agreement.
3. Do discuss the holidays with your children. Once you have confirmed what the schedule will be for the holidays, talk to your children (depending on their age) to let them know where they will be and when. Don’t wait until Christmas Eve to tell them that they are going to their father’s house for Christmas morning. Depending on their age, children benefit from knowing ahead of time what the schedule will be so they can anticipate what their holiday season will look like.
4. Don’t get caught up with having the actual holiday. Parents sometimes fixate about having the exact holiday, like Christmas morning. Remember that the holidays are not necessarily about the actual day, but instead about spending time with your children. You might find out that your children don’t care so much about opening presents on Christmas morning versus Christmas evening, just that they actually get presents they want.
5. Don’t be scared to start new traditions with your children based on your custody order. For example, if you don’t have custody of your children on Thanksgiving evening, explain to them that you are having a new special Thanksgiving dinner the day after Thanksgiving every year, followed by a game night. Invite your extended family. Make it into a fun event that your children will look forward to every year.
6. Don’t put your children in the middle of any custody disputes, especially holiday disputes. If you and your ex cannot reach an agreement as to who will have the children on Christmas, don’t ask them where they want to be. Don’t convey messages to the other parent through your children and certainly don’t have your children advocate to the other parent on your behalf. Children of separated parents deal with enough stress and pressure, putting them in the middle doesn’t do them any favors.If there is ever a time of year to keep the peace for the sake of your children, the holidays are it.