Hoping to survive the holidays as divorced parents? It can be tough – really, really tough.
The best gift for you and your children is to put your kids first and make it a point to make the holidays happy for them. This includes working with your ex-spouse to figure out logistics and other important details, as hard as that may be.
Issues to Resolve when Trying to Survive the Holidays as Divorced Parents.
- The question of who will celebrate which holidays and when. Are the children at mom’s on Christmas day, and at dad’s on Christmas Eve? How about on Thanksgiving, when most extended families get together?
- Deciding and handling travel arrangements during the children’s school holidays can be tricky as well. Who goes to which house at what time, and who gets them there? What if one parent wants to take the kids away for vacation?
- Parents buying elaborate gifts to one-up each other. “You get a brand new car,” “Here’s that dog you always wanted,” “Enjoy the drum set I sent over to your Mother’s house for you.”
- The annual “dissing of the other parent” tradition around the holiday meal table, often with Grandma or Grandpa joining in.
The uncertainty and stress of being in a separated or divorced family can cause disagreements to quickly escalate into arguments – a tug-of-war between parents. But, there are ways to avoid conflicts, and it starts with working with the other parent. Yes, deciding logistics and other issues with the other parent can be done. (Quick tip: remember that you’re doing it for your children.)
6 Tips to Survive the Holidays as Divorced Parents
Family lawyers Alan Plevy and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson offer the following steps to use to survive the holidays as divorced parents.
1. Plan ahead:
“It is imperative to create a plan ahead of time that includes when and where your children will be,” says Plevy. Plevy suggests having everything outlined, which eliminates the chance of unexpected surprises. Confirm the plan in writing via text message or email. Don’t forget to keep the kids updated in order to prevent any anxiety they might feel from being kept out of the loop. This is also extremely helpful in blended families, where parents may have children from previous marriages and the comings and goings are constant. Vacations with children should be proposed, discussed, and worked out far in advance.
2. Avoid a gifting competition:
Divorced parents often face an unspoken problem: the desire to outdo the other. “A gifting competition is a no-win proposition, often leaving you in debt, overwhelmed, and hurt,” says Dickerson. Too often, we hear about a parent who buys a dog for their child, even though they know the pet will not be able to live at the other parent’s house. Yes, children may love the gift, but it isn’t worth added stress on the child.
3. Behave like an adult:
Maintain your composure and remain civil and business-like with the other parent. Remember that your children still love them, and speaking rudely about the other parent in front of your children will upset them and exacerbate their stress. Make sure their aunts, uncles, and grandparents follow the same rules. Children would rather feel at peace, so avoid the bickering. Otherwise, when they grow older, they might not want to visit.
4. Put your children first:
After a divorce or separation, there is often a mixture of negative emotions: sadness, anger, and disappointment. Make sure you listen to your children’s concerns and tell them that sharing these emotions is okay. Plevy says letting them vent can be a big help.
5. Create new traditions:
It’s a new chapter, meaning now is the time for new, unique holiday traditions. Instead of decorating the Christmas tree, carolling, or hanging holiday lights (which may have been done with both parents in the past), start a family game night, run a 5k, or volunteer to feed the homeless with your children. “New traditions help kids focus on the fun, alleviate their stress, and make the season special,” says Dickerson.
6. Give yourself a gift:
Divorced or separated parents may feel sad, alone, and stressed. Occasionally, because of the established visitation schedule, a parent might find they have more free time when their child is with the other parent. Plevy advises that while children are learning to adapt to an established structure, you should too. Use this time to do something special or create a tradition for yourself. By prioritizing your happiness, you will be more upbeat during the time you get to spend with your children for the holidays.
Alan Plevy is a co-founding principal and family law attorney atSmolenPlevy in suburban Washington, DC. Plevy is a recognized leader in family law and has almost 40 years of experience handling all issues requiring resolution in matrimonial actions, including property settlement agreements, custody and visitation issues, and support.