The holidays can be a complicated time for children of divorce. This season can be stressful for everyone, but families with divorced parents often face a specific set of challenges. Regardless of your situation, the winter festivities should be a time to come together and spend quality time with your family. If you are a divorced parent hoping to have a stress-free holiday season this year, keep these seven pro-tips in mind.
One common solution for navigating the holidays as divorced parents is to come up with an alternating plan that balances out over the years. In other words, what parent A gets on year, parent B gets the next year and vice versa. This helps both parties compromise and feel like they have an equal arrangement. It is a good idea to have this plan in writing and get it signed by a court so both parents will stick to it for the long term.
Having an open and honest discussion about parenting plans over the holidays can be difficult. If both divorced parents are having a hard time having a productive conversation, it can be helpful to work with a neutral child-focused mediator, family therapist, or child specialist. Having a neutral person as part of this conversation can help keep it on track, and also provide insight and strategies for solutions that may not have occurred to both parents.
When making parenting plans over the holidays it's always important to put your child’s best interest first, which typically means cooperating rather than fighting. Being flexible and willing to compromise and looking to foster cooperating is a great way to create a positive experience for everyone.
When developing your plan, consider how family traditions will be incorporated into the parenting plan. Is there usually some travel to visit relatives? If your family celebrates Christmas, is Christmas Eve or Christmas Day of particular importance to one family member or the other?
Unless there are extenuating circumstances, Seattle Divorce Services often recommends keeping child exchanges to a minimum. For example, if your children have two weeks off from school, parent A might have the kids from the day school ends until Christmas morning and parent B might have the children from Christmas morning until school is back in session. Then, parents can do the opposite the next year. This strategy may not always give exactly equal time between both parents but will typically even out over the years.
While some children may be too young to have much of a say in their holiday plans, older children often have activities and commitments over the holiday break. In this case, it can be a good idea to include the children in a discussion about holiday plans. However, it is crucial to not put the final decision on your kid’s shoulders, and rather ask for their input and have the parents make final decisions. This can avoid children feeling put in the middle.
If you have a relatively new partner, the holidays are probably not the best time to introduce that person to your children. However, if new partners are well established with your family already, the holidays can be a good time to create a blended family moving forward. Finding ways to welcome this person into your family’s traditions and incorporating some of their traditions can create a rich holiday experience for everyone.
If you know your children do not favor your new partner (not uncommon!) avoid using the holidays to try to force togetherness. If you see these feelings develop, try consulting a family therapist for guidance on handling the holiday season and helping your children become comfortable around your new partner.
Whether you are on the same page with your former spouse or not, always try to present a united front to your children. This makes it significantly easier for children to accept parental decisions rather than playing one parent against the other. Remember, material gifts do not make up for having to endure parental conflict. The best present you can give your children is often an enjoyable and stress-free holiday season!