As the holiday season approaches it often calls for times of reflection. Reliving past memories, being reminded of family and friends no longer with us and having the opportunity to spend extended time with family, the holidays can often be a cathartic and much-needed season of the year. Conversely, the holiday season can also create a sense of dread or loneliness depending on where you are in your life journey. For some of my family law clients, the holidays can be a time of transition, particularly where children are involved. In talking to my clients during these times I try to express the importance of perspective and in doing so, I have come up with the following list that can help guide them, and you, through the holiday season after divorce.
When a person thinks back on past holiday memories, many times the most vivid and memorable holiday experiences come from our own childhoods. It is important to keep this in mind, as it is a parent who will generally have the responsibility for ensuring their children have similarly fond memories of their childhood. When deciding on or exercising a holiday timesharing or visitation plan with your children, as much as you want to have things that are going to be most advantageous for you, you have to remember that the children must be thought of first, last and always. This is going to require some level of reasonableness and flexibility between the parents to ensure that the children are not placed into the middle of any timesharing disputes, including the creation of any feelings within the children that they must “choose” their time between parents, particularly during the holidays. Keeping in mind the importance of these holidays for your children should be your guidepost during these holiday celebrations.
In order to follow the above advice, in putting the children first, it goes without saying that, as a parent, many times you have to put your own ego and desires aside for the benefit of your children, and this may include timesharing over the holidays. A good parenting plan and timesharing schedule will clearly delineate a holiday schedule, including specific dates and times of exchanges, but often times during the holidays the children will want to participate in various activities with either or both parents. This will sometimes call for an added level of flexibility, in that parents should give some deference, within reason of course, to the children’s desires for specific traditions and activities during these times. For example, if the children have customarily gone to a tree-lighting ceremony with one particular parent, but the night of the ceremony falls during the other parent’s timesharing, then it might make sense to trade days to allow the children’s holiday traditions to continue unimpeded. In most cases it can be very beneficial for the children to maintain a sense of normalcy and balance during the holidays, and to the extent you can help facilitate that, you certainly should.
Remember your children will only be children once, so if you have the chance to do something special for them, or get them a little something extra, then my advice is to go for it! This, of course, is meant to be done within reason, and never with the intentions of trying to one-up the other parent or spoil the children in ways that the other parent cannot, particularly if there is a disparity in incomes between parents. Parents must be careful to not create a sense of entitlement in their children that the other parent cannot keep up with, but at the same time, any chance you have to show your children how special they are and how much they mean to you should be jumped on.
When your holiday timesharing arrives, make sure to keep the children at the center of your focus so that they can enjoy the holidays and not be burdened by feelings they may inevitably have about not being with the other parent at particular times. To ensure the children do not carry this burden, a parent must try to set all of their personal feelings aside, either towards the other parent or the timesharing schedule itself, so that the children can be the center of an enjoyable holiday experience. As we all know, children can be very perceptive and can pick up on things that adults do not even see, and this can be even more true when children are sharing time between parents, as sometimes parents can make subconscious comments they feel are innocuous, but children hear in a very different way. To avoid these scenarios, be grateful for the time you have with your children during the holidays and keep the focus squarely on the children. By focusing on the positive aspects of holiday timesharing, your children will be exposed to any of the negativity that can sometimes creep up during the holiday season after divorce.
One’s state of mind can have a lot of impact on how events can unfold, so if you remain positive about the holidays, you are more likely to have an enjoyable holiday season. By focusing on the positive aspects of the holidays, you can avoid negativity creeping into your celebrations. This includes putting past tension and grievances aside and focusing on making your children, and your happiness, the focus of holiday timesharing.
It's always important to remember the reason for the holidays: to give thanks and be grateful for what we do have in our lives. As many people will tell you, children can be the greatest gift, so be sure to celebrate your children and by doing so, they, in turn will have an enjoyable holiday season after divorce.
Committing yourself to the principles laid out above can help ensure an enjoyable holiday season for all, and most importantly, for your children, who will likely carry these memories forward and use them to shape their future holiday experiences with their own children one day.
Attorney Russell J. Frank, a partner at Orlando-based law firm CPLS P.A., focuses his practice areas on family and marital law. Contact him today to discuss any family or marital legal issues you may be experiencing at firstname.lastname@example.org.