Home for the holidays can be tough as a divorced parent. Being without your children on special days can be rough. Depending upon whom has primary custody, the kids will usually view home as the place they spend the most time at. Since there are so many variations of handling 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.
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. Aunt Edna smells funny and it’s cold. So, you need to let the kid stay with you if you’re someone 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 attended to.
Some divorced families stick to rigid scheduling around holidays that have either been agreed to previously, or are perhaps court ordered in a support stipulation agreement. While it can certainly ease tensions to have clearly defined dates set far ahead of time, I also believe it is valuable to think about having flexibility.
After our separation, the mother of my daughter and myself actually did have a fairly complete support agreement to rely on when issues arose and 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.
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 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.
For example, Thanksgiving has always been a pretty big deal for mom’s side of the family. My daughter’s mother has a fairly 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. Now, by turn, while my family isn’t really small, we also have not ever really had long standing Thanksgiving traditions. Of course I would love for my daughter to spend that holiday with me, however, in this situation, while I could easily have argued for my rights within the stipulation agreement, where it outlines we trade holidays yearly, the only real point in doing so would be to disrupt her 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, mom 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). 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.
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.
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 seen.
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 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. Start negotiating as soon as you know.
My ex and I were pretty good at this, and we often had our daughter’s summer schedule worked out by late winter, which 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 far enough in advance to also make plans with other kids where she would be travelling (or staying at home).
Next time we’ll talk about handling scheduling conflicts towards fair resolution.
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