It’s that special time of year again, but for many divorced couples, the holidays can mean arguments, miscommunication, and anger. You have the opportunity to spare your child the pain of conflict with some planning and compromise.
Because what does it look like otherwise?
In my 20 years as a divorce attorney and representing children in custody cases, I’ve seen children attend holiday shows two nights in a row and never tell the other parent that they have already seen it. The child pretends it is a new experience for them to avoid causing an argument
between her parents or hurt feelings. I’ve also seen gifts duplicated and a child has to feign excitement when he opens the repeat gift. I’ve seen arguments ensue because one parent purchased something the other parent didn’t approve of (think, cell phone). I’ve seen children have to eat two dinners on Christmas Eve.
The holidays after divorce are going to look a little different. There is almost no way to avoid that.
These are my top tips to help you (and your children) get through the holidays
(and maybe even enjoy them) when you are a redefined and restructured family.
- Start Early.
Start communicating about holidays NOW. Add any special events to a shared calendar so both parents are aware of the event.
Communication is key here. If you start early enough, you can map out the month, exchange parenting time, and agree so no one misses out on anything.
If there is a disagreement, don’t wait for three days before the holiday to contact your lawyer. Lawyers are bombarded with requests to work out disagreements right before the holiday and it is unlikely they will be able to help on such short notice when offices close early and courts are inundated with cases.
Also, here is the catch....if you want your ex to be accommodating, you need to be as well. It works both ways!
- Exchange Gift Lists.
When children are young and “Santa” brings gifts, it’s crucial for parents to communicate about what gifts will be delivered to each house. Imagine the confusion a 6-year-old would have if the prized Santa gift showed up at both houses. Making a chart like the one below, and sharing it through e-mail or a shared calendar will help alleviate much of the potential confusion with gift-giving.
It’s important for parents to have conversations about which gifts the children are receiving and which gifts are off limits, and when, if ever, that gift would be appropriate.
Another aspect of gift giving to discuss with your co-parent is whether or not the children will be buying gifts for their parents. If the children are purchasing a gift for each parent, make sure to discuss a budget with each other that you’re both comfortable with. This can be a really great way to show your children that you’re both still their parents and still value and respect one another.
Remember, it is about your child and not about outdoing one another.
- Be Flexible about Special Events.
With the holidays come special events, whether it’s a school concert, play or an annual tradition to see a performance like the Nutcracker. These events are important and children look forward to them. When there is strain and stress in a family, these events can cause anxiety and worry in children. It is important to be accommodating regarding these events and not look at them as time “lost” with your child if the other parent is taking them, but as an opportunity to start your own new traditions that your children will look forward to.
- Create Memories instead of Focusing on the Date.
The most important thing to remember about the holidays is that it should be primarily about your children and what makes them happy and feel loved by both parents. Your children will remember a special moment you created for them. Down the road, they won’t care whether that moment occurred on December 25 or December 26.
- Don’t Stuff Your Children with Turkey.
I’ve seen parents get so hung up on wanting their children at their house to eat a holiday dinner, that they actually force the child to eat two meals. Instead, how about your child has dinner at one house and dessert at the other? Your child does not really care where they eat, so don’t put more emphasis on the act of consuming the meal than is necessary.
Let’s be honest, they are more interested in the cookies anyway.
Working together may be difficult for the adults, but it makes a world of difference for your children. It is your job to keep the magic in the holiday and sometimes that means choosing peace over being right. Let your children’s memories of the holidays be fond ones.
Attorney Renee Bauer is the founder and managing attorney at Happy Even After Family Law in Connecticut. She is a podcast host, author, and host of the women’ empowerment summit, She Who Wins.