Holiday time can be wonderful and it can also be very painful. It is a hard season to be without your children, and being divorced means that part of the time you are without your children. And the hardest thing is that you don’t even always know what they are doing!
Both parents need to share holiday time with their kids. So, what’s the best way to figure out a fair and equitable holiday schedule? Every family is different, and different needs must be respected. First, it is important to honor family traditions. What has the family always done for holidays? What are the children accustomed to doing? If every Thanksgiving has always been spent with Grandma and Grandpa, mom’s parents, does that mean that should always continue? Well, that really wouldn’t be fair… but it might be helpful to have the first one spent the usual way, for the kids sake, and let them know that next year, dad will be taking them for the holiday if he chooses to.
I have worked with some divorcing couples who have chosen to have all Thanksgivings with one parent in exchange for all Christmas days with the other, though most couples tend to want to share those times by alternating holidays. Many couples easily alternate Thanksgiving day every other year very successfully. Sometimes this means only the Thursday, and other times, it may be the whole weekend – particularly if parents are travelling to visit family out of town. Sometimes the weekend is split between Thursday and Friday, and Saturday and Sunday. The key is that there is no “right” schedule. It must work for the family.
Christmas means different things to different people, and here it is also important to honor tradition and family as well as religion. For some people Christmas Day or Christmas Eve is the most important time. If it is very important to both parents, then it would be appropriate to either split Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, and rotate that every other year – with one parent having both times with their children every other year. Neither is ideal, but being fair is what’s most important. If the holiday is not really important to one parent and it is to the other, this provides an opportunity for generosity. The parent who doesn’t celebrate the holiday can freely give the time to the other parent. When this happens, it is usually paid back with good feeling and other time. If parents are of different religions, it is important to respect the traditions of both backgrounds. This is usually easier as the days, for example, of Chanukah and Christmas are usually not the same.
The best schedules are those that respect the needs of each parent and focus primarily on the best interests of the children. The parents who can be flexible with one another are the ones that are generally happier and have the most successful co-parenting relationships.