The holidays present unique challenges for divorced and recently separated parents. On top of your already long checklist, you must now work with your ex-spouse’s schedule, compare wish lists and share time with your former in-laws. When you have divorce questions, Columbus family attorneys Babbitt & Dahlberg are here to tackle common obstacles with you.
Most parents will already have a court-ordered schedule laying out parenting time for the entire year as well as the holidays. For some families, adhering to the schedule to a tee is the best option. However, if the exes are able to communicate and co-parent successfully, giving kids extra time with each parent or grandparents can be just what they need during the holidays. Discuss the holiday visitation early on to prevent any miscommunication.
If the kids voice a desire to visit with both sides of the family, try to be flexible with your schedule, especially if it doesn’t impact your holiday plans. Consider giving your spouse a few hours on Christmas Eve to open presents with the children, or letting them visit with your spouse’s grandparents. Let your kids know the game plan early on – don’t leave it up in the air. Remember that finding time for each parent is just as stressful for your children as it is deciding who gets them.
Put your kids’ needs ahead of your own emotions in every aspect of planning during this stressful time. Put yourself in their shoes, and don’t manipulate or guilt them into spending more time with you than your spouse. While co-parenting during the holidays can be the most challenging part of the year, making your kids choose between you and your spouse will only cause them more stress or even resentment. Do whatever it takes to put your kids first and minimize the pressure on them.
Inventing a new tradition can be a great way to create excitement for the kids and help them adapt to the new flow of the holidays. Embrace this opportunity to redefine how you celebrate the holidays. You could visit a homeless shelter together, take the family to a holiday movie or plan an annual craft like making a gingerbread house. The key is to keep the season special and take the focus away from mourning what used to be.
This is especially important in a blended family and for newly separated parents not yet divorced. Since the ways of the old family are no longer possible to repeat, creating new traditions can bring the new family together. Help your kids focus on the new, but let them talk freely about the things they used to do.
Never make Christmas a time to outdo each other. Discuss gift ideas beforehand to avoid duplicate gifts and confusion. If you have a good relationship with your ex, consider going in on a larger gift from the both of you.
If you are recently divorced or are in the middle of a divorce, you’re probably in a different financial situation than you were in previous years. You may have a less-than-ideal living situation and other new expenses to handle. Resist the urge to keep up with your spouse’s spending if they are in a different financial position than you are. Never comment to your children or your ex how much a gift (from either parent) cost.
In the end, minutes mean more than dollars. What children really need is loving time with each parent – not a scene of one-upmanship.
Give your children a say in the planning. If possible, consider their favorite traditions when making your holiday schedules.
“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.
Remember how difficult this season can be for the entire family. Letting your kids make some of the decisions, like spending a few extra hours with the other parent, can go a long way.