Co-parenting on holidays is a major challenge for a divorced dad. Being without your children on special days can be rough. Depending on primary custody, the kids will usually view home as the place they spend the most of their time. Since there are so many variations of co-parenting children through divorce, I’ll just try to tackle some basic ideas to think about when you have to interact with your ex to plan holidays and other events.
It’s Not About You, Dad
First and foremost, you need to think about the children’s welfare before your own needs. You may want your kid to spend the summer with Aunt Edna in Maine, but your kid may already have a planned summer hanging with local kids at the watering hole near your place. Anyway, Aunt Edna smells funny and it’s cold at her place. So, you need to let the kid stay with you if you’re a dad who cares.
While we may have our own desires and traditions we wish to instill in our children for certain holidays and times of year, we also have to take into account that we are no longer the only decision maker, and that consideration for our spouse and for our children’s needs must be part of co-parenting on holidays.
Pre-arranged Co-Parenting Agreements Can Help
Some divorced families stick to rigid scheduling around holidays that have either been agreed to previously, or are court ordered. While it can ease co-parenting tensions to have clearly defined dates set far ahead of time, I also believe it is valuable to have flexibility.
After our separation, the mother of my daughter and I had a detailed support agreement to rely on when issues arose. We used that as the final say, though in most circumstances we simply communicated effectively about what our needs were, what our child’s desires were, and sought to find resolutions among our choices that would best benefit our kid.
His and Her Holidays
I recommend having at least one holiday a year that is “yours” and one holiday a year that is “hers” and work to keep those traditions in line as much as possible. I would also suggest that these holidays are not the big ones like Christmas and Easter (or Hanukkah and Pesach if you’re a Jewish family).
Making permanent co-parenting schedules for minor holidays can help to ease the tensions surrounding the major ones, and also ensures you will have the opportunity to have at least one special time of year with your kids, where you can instill traditions, knowledge and that cherished feeling of family togetherness.
Family Traditions of Her Side of the Family
Thanksgiving has always been a pretty big deal for my ex’s side of the family. My daughter’s mother has a large extended family with three great aunts and many cousins. One of the great aunts had made it a tradition, years before my daughter was born, that she would visit the rest of the family every Thanksgiving.
On the other hand, while my family isn’t small, we also don’t have long standing Thanksgiving traditions. I’d love for my daughter to spend that holiday with me and could easily have argued for my rights within the stipulation agreement, where it outlines we trade holidays yearly. Honestly, the only real point in doing so would be to disrupt my ex’s family’s traditions and assert my own egotistical needs.
Instead, when we first looked at holiday times, we decided since Thanksgiving was an important one for her family, my ex would always have our daughter for Thanksgiving, and I would always have my daughter for Halloween (which happens to be one of my favorite holidays).
Special Time With Daddy’s Girl
From the time my daughter was old enough to trick or treat, until the year she graduated high school, we have had almost every Halloween together, and over that time we also established life-long friend for her that joined us in our celebrations.
Equally over that time, my daughter has enjoyed the richness of her mother’s traditions concerning Thanksgiving and will hopefully want to continue those into her adult life. Personally, I really look forward to a Halloween evening out with my adult daughter some year.
Here’s That Flexibility Thing Again
Over the course of my daughter’s life, there have certainly been one or two times when this has changed for various reasons (one year the great aunt was sick, and my sister in Texas asked if we could join them, so we switched it around that year), though for the most part, those holidays have become the least stressful of our planning year. My daughter came to expect Thanksgiving with mom and Halloween with dad, which also created ease for her.
Co-Parenting on Holidays and School Vacations, Too!
Concerning the major winter and spring holiday breaks for schoolchildren, I would recommend a flexible approach that places emphasis on raising the children with the influence of both families over time. An “every other year” policy seems to be the best, at least from what I have experienced.
Again, it is important to listen to your kids. Ask what they want concerning holidays (once they are old enough to reason, of course) and do your best to accommodate.
Bottom line: When holidays and vacations are approaching, work to plan far in advance with your ex. If you know that next spring break your side of the family is planning a reunion, don’t wait until three weeks from break to start asking your ex and your child how they feel about the vacation. Co-parenting on holidays and vacations can be stress free if you start negotiating as soon as you know about special events.
My ex and I were pretty good at scheduling on holidays and vacations. We often had our daughter’s summer schedule worked out by late winter!
Early negotiating made long term planning much easier on us both, and gave our daughter the comfort and security of knowing where and when she would be while on school breaks. My daughter was never left hanging until the last minute, and could make advance plans with other kids that live where she would be on break.
Co-parenting Conflict Resolution
No matter how carefully you plan, no matter how good your relation with your ex is, there will be times when you have to find a resolution to a scheduling conflict.
Obviously, one of you will have to give in. Let’s not make a big deal out of it, okay?
Listen, as the years go by, the important thing is your continued presence in your child’s life, and one holiday isn’t going to make the difference. Keep that in mind as you negotiate.
By the same token, it is important to give your children routines that they are comfortable and familiar with. One of these is keeping holiday schedules intact. Though it isn’t critical to adhere too strictly, it is definitely a good idea to keep a comfortable schedule your children are familiar with when possible.
The Art of Negotiation
Giving your kids routines around the holidays (and frankly, around just about any recurring activities in their lives) provides them a sense of comfort and security.
So, let’s say you both want to spend the 4th of July taking your kids to see fireworks. What can you do?
Well, the most obvious first question is; do you already have a set routine between your ex and yourself concerning this holiday?
For the sake of argument, we are going to assume that she normally has custody on this holiday. You’re disturbing the co-parenting routine with your request. So, be certain to ask yourself how important is it that you get the kids? Do you just want to spend time with them on a date you normally don’t, or is there a compelling reason to ask your ex to shift schedules (family in town, great deal on a houseboat, special activities for the kids, etc.)
If you honestly believe the children will benefit more from time with you than from their established previous routines on this holiday, then you should proceed with careful negotiation.
I feel the first fair proposal to make your ex is to see if you and she can both spend time with the kids on the holiday. This makes a huge impact over the years, when kids can see their parents interacting without malice.
If it is already established that you and your ex will not share a holiday together, then there is no point in trying that route. Concerning the children, the real question is what will make the most sense. If you know that having the kids will best benefit them, then I suggest you do your best to discuss your position with your ex. Explain how they will benefit, and be willing to make a counter offer.
Effective Co-Parenting On Holidays Means There Has To Be Some Give And Take
Perhaps if you take them for Independence Day, your ex will take them for Labor Day weekend when you would normally have them?
When working with your ex towards finding co-parenting holiday schedules that will work for the both of you, compromise is key. (Mostly, your compromise.)
Remember, the goal is to find the best experience for your kids. Though you may have ideas of how you want your holidays, you will have to negotiate in most cases. Always try to keep the conversation focused on the resolution, not your personal wants or desires.
Again, try to keep a bigger picture in mind. Swapping holidays is really pretty common among single parents, and unless you have some type of stipulation either clearly defining each holiday or clearly stating your rights, then there is going to be room for redefining your holiday scheduling.
I have mentioned this previously, and it bears repeating: The farther ahead you can plan holidays with your kids, the easier it will be on all involved.
The farther ahead you can plan holidays with your kids, the easier it will be on all involved.
The sooner you are aware of the need to change an existing schedule, the better the chances of getting it accomplished. Use your first available opportunity to communicate with your ex what you would propose for a change, and be willing to make concessions.
Remember, anything that isn’t already defined is going to be a disruption for her, so keep that in mind as you ask. If you know you want your kids for one holiday, perhaps you can come up with ways that taking them will actually look like support of your ex. Just being willing to work with her will make a difference, for you, for her, and most importantly, for your children.
How are you dealing with the challenges of co-parenting on holidays? Tell us what works – and what doesn’t – in the comments below!
Now is the perfect time to check out Melissa Ricker’s tips on Using Google Calendar for Effective Co-parenting. You won’t want to miss Sara Gabriella’s reasons why Co-parenting Agreements Put Your Kid’s Best Interests First.
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