When new clients engage, one of the first steps I take with them is to create a plan that would guide them through the mediation of their divorce settlement. Depending on when they start, quite often a holiday, or perhaps more than one, would come up during the process – whether it is Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter etc. A key aspect of my plan is how to handle the upcoming holiday.
Divorcing couples with children will be faced with a myriad of family events, memories, traditions, juggling expectations, and responsibilities to children and extended family. “Winging it” is a poor choice if you are dealing with the holidays.
Parents can do irreparable harm to their children if they fail to make holiday plans, leaving it to chance and hope things will work out. They don’t. Nine out of ten times, battles ensue, causing children to become pawns as the parents fight over “who gets them at Christmas.”
4 Benefits of Planning Ahead
There are many benefits by addressing the holidays one to two months in advance of the actual holiday.
- It allows parents to focus on the holiday and what is in the best interests of the children – and not their own differences and wants.
- Reduces the tension and stress between parents, and it avoids arguments at a time when holiday stresses already naturally increase.
- Allows both parents and extended families to spend time with the children in healthy ways.
- Avoids the children from having to choose between mom and dad, as a well thought out plan allows for both parents to spend time with the children.
6 Things to Consider in Your Holiday Plan
- Honor Tradition. Allow kids to attend traditional gatherings. If Christmas Eve was always spent with Dad’s family – don’t change that. Don’t rob your children of that “sense of family.” Just because you may not be a part of the “family” anymore – they still should be. Let them go there and spend time with their cousins, and you have them on Christmas Day.
- Celebrating Together. If you are in the minority group of people who are civil after divorce and can spend holidays together without awkwardness to you or the kids – then do it. But if you are hurt, angry or bitter about your failed marriage, then forcing your ex-spouse to be there Christmas morning to open gifts will be an ordeal for everyone – especially your kids. Make a clean break. Learn to celebrate the holidays apart – torture free.
- Creating a Foundation for the Separation Agreement. During the interim planning stage, setting a holiday schedule with my clients often becomes the basis of their settlement agreement. By establishing the terms for the first Christmas or holiday, it makes decisions about how to handle future holidays easy as an agreement has already been reached. For example – if on even years Dad has the kids Christmas Eve and Mom has them Christmas Day, the parents easily agree to alternate the days on odd years. If the first Christmas goes smoothly, then the following years will be even smoother.
- Ask the Kids. Be sensitive to the needs and wishes of your children. Broach the subject with them (together if you can) to see what they would like to do. You may be surprised that they may want the holiday to be simple. Don’t play the victim, be dejected, or try to get what I call “sympathy time” if they don’t want to spend a lot of time with you. It doesn’t have to be 50-50.
- Be an Adult. Walk in the Shoes of Your Ex. It is no victory to you if your children ostracize, with or without your help, the other parent. It does not make you a better parent or reinforce that you were the “wronged party” in the marital breakdown. Encourage your children to spend some time with the other parent. Role model how that alienating behavior is hurtful to the other parent and robs them of a relationship with their mom or their dad. Tell them how hurt you would feel if you were the one rejected. That kindness will pay big dividends in your co-parenting and the ability of your children to have healthy relationships not only with their parents but others. Reinforcing or supporting your kids rejection of the other parent is parental alienation.
- Create New Traditions. I am really big on this. Yes, honoring past traditions are important, but they also come with painful memories, highlighted by the absence of your ex. So choose to honor a few traditions, but celebrate new beginnings with new traditions. Engage the kids in determining what those new traditions might be.
- Remember the True Meaning of Christmas. It is about the gift of giving – not just material things. It is the gift of love. The gift of friendship. The gift of forgiveness. It is the gift of you.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Mary Krauel, CPA, CA, EMBA, CDFA, is the owner and senior negotiator of PRM Mediation.