Whether you are a new divorcee or have been divorced for years, coparenting during the holidays often leads to long discussions, hard decisions and hurt feelings. Not only on the adults but on the children. Many couples include holidays and summer vacations in the Parenting Plan or Custody Agreement. Others however wait until the day arrives realizing far too late the situation they have placed themselves in and the effect it will have on the children.
If one parent has full custody and the other visitation rights, it can be emotionally traumatic for a child to be pulled from friends, family and a home in which they feel safe, to spend fall and winter holidays with a parent they see once or twice a month. Even children who go back and forth each weekend are affected by the choices parents make. Which toys are appropriate, is a cellphone on the list, should they have a television in their bedroom and who experiences the delights of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning are discussions divorcees with the most detailed Parenting Plan must have.
Divorcees re-marry adding step-mothers and step-fathers, half-brothers and half-sisters to new environments, new cultures, new customs and new rules. Blended families bring new challenges to coparenting. Adolescents and teens appear to be more receptive, yet they require open communications and as much for-warning as young children and toddlers. The challenge is even greater for parents who live in different cities or states. Often the custodial parent has no knowledge of the environment or living conditions their child will be experiencing. Many have never met the ex-spouse’s new family or have knowledge of how their child will fit in. Putting a child on a bus, a train or a plane to spend the holidays with someone you don’t know can be painful, particularly if there is a lack of trust.
The good news is coordinating child custody during holidays should not make a mess of the holiday season. The escalated tension and conflict of co-parenting can be eased with a few do’s and don’ts. Establishing an open line of communications, keeping each parent informed of changes or additions to the immediate family and setting a schedule and following it is fundamental. What do you tell your kids? Prepare them in advance! Reduce the stress on children by setting expectations, explaining differing customs, rules, duties and responsibilities and letting them know before the holidays where they will be and what travel arrangements have been made.
Children often forget upcoming holidays can lead to major changes. Christmas concerts and plays, holiday parties and special events often interfere with co-parenting and travel plans. Don’t put children in the middle of holiday disputes. Share dates and times of upcoming events with ex-spouses, inform them of extra-curricular activities in advance. Don’t ask the child where they would like to be, instead start a new tradition passed on by the custody order. Keep discussions and conversations positive and upbeat and let them know your ex-spouse loves them and wants to share their life as much as you do.
Parents can fixate on having a specific day, week, month or holiday. Children can be fixated on wanting to be in a specific place on a certain holiday. Don’t get caught up on a particular day. Two birthday parties might be too much, but two Thanksgivings, Christmases and New Years can be fun. Keep communications open, plan ahead, follow the Parenting / Custody Plan and keep personal feelings toward the ex-spouse out of the decision-making process. Contributions by adolescents and older teens should be heard, however final decisions should be left to parents. Psychologist suggest parents make and post a schedule at the beginning of the year. Children will have all year to accept and adjust to the Parenting Plan two loving parents have made.