An Ohio family law attorney outlines holiday custody do’s and don’ts

5 methods to help children of divorce through the holidays

Between hauling the kids from house to house, dividing up Christmas and finding time for each grandparent, sometimes it feels like the holidays can’t go by fast enough. But there are steps you can take to alleviate the stress and help your family make the best of the days ahead.

  1. Maintain routine, but stay flexible.

Your divorce decree and/or parenting order is the perfect starting point, as it typically includes a provision outlining the parenting schedule during major holidays. This document details what the Court believed to be in the best interest of the child, so refer back to it when lines get fuzzy around hectic holiday plans.

Once you know the boundaries, flexibility can be your friend. Are the ex’s parents coming in from out of town? Are you going to have to make nice at a school Christmas concert?

Especially when small concessions don’t ultimately impact your holiday schedule, consider compromising on your regular parenting schedule to help the kids adjust to the holidays. This could mean giving your ex a few hours on Christmas Eve to open presents with the children, or letting them visit with their grandparents during time that “should” have been yours. Discuss the holiday visitation early on to prevent any miscommunication, and save any emails in case of a dispute.           

  1. Always put the kids first.

Whether it’s your first Christmas apart or you’re already a blended family, holidays are difficult enough for children to adjust to without pressuring them or unnecessarily shuffling them around.

Making them choose between the two most important people in their life is the last thing kids want to do during the holiday season. Talk to your ex and refer to your divorce decree before you discuss holiday schedules with your children. Put yourself in their shoes, and don’t manipulate or guilt them into spending more time with you than your former spouse.

  1. Create new traditions.

Brainstorming new traditions can help kids adapt to new familial realities. Make a point to start an interactive tradition such as making a gingerbread house, knitting a scarf, or volunteering.

Putting the focus on the new, instead of mourning what once was, can be especially proactive in a blended family.

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  1. Don’t compete or compare.

Parents often feel the need to overcompensate for the fallout of divorce by going overboard with presents. Rather than trying to one-up your ex or buy your kids’ love, focus on what will make your family truly happy.

Try to shake any feelings of guilt that could push you to spend outside your means. Between the cost of divorce, moving into a new home, and other unexpected expenses, your holiday savings probably aren’t what they were last year. But the truth is, what your kids really need is time with you—not dollar signs.

Don’t forget to discuss gift ideas beforehand to avoid doubling up, and never comment on how much or how little either parent spent.

  1. Empathize with them.

Children often feel a tremendous amount of anger during the holidays, often as a result of the divorce. These emotions can come from feelings of guilt, confusion, stress or a combination of these and other overwhelming factors.

If your kids seem angry this time of year, listen to them and try get to the root of the problem, as it most likely goes much deeper than a surface level outburst. Encourage reminiscing, do something new together and let them help plan celebrations.

“When children have some input about activities and an idea of what to expect, it helps to reassure them and give them a sense of control in the midst of family changes,” says clinical psychologist, JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, PhD.

Get expert advice from your Ohio family law attorney.

If you’re facing separation during the holidays or have a divorce question in Columbus, get in touch with the attorneys at Babbitt & Dahlberg today to schedule a consultation.