Holiday Tips for Divorced or Separating Parents

It is no secret that holidays are stressful. Add a divorce or separation, particularly with children involved, and the stress increases dramatically. As a divorce attorney, I see people struggle with the stress and have come up with the following tips:

  1. Plan early and plan often. Plan how you want your holidays spent, which is particularly true if you are sharing custody of children, who deserve to not have their holidays impacted by their parents fighting. This requires you and your ex, or soon-to-be-ex, to communicate on some level about when and where the children will be. Those plans should be communicated to the children to ensure they don’t have expectations that cannot be met. If they aren’t going to see mom or dad on a specific holiday, don’t let them find out on the holiday. In addition, to the extent possible, the plan for that day should not change and should be focused on enjoying the day.
  2. Share your plans with your ex in advance. This requires some level of trust that your ex won’t sabotage your plans, but that part is out of your control. What is in your control, is communicating your overall plans. This does not, and should not, require you to get approval for each and every thing you plan on doing for the holidays. It does mean that your ex deserves to have a general sense of where the children will be. If you are still living in the same house, it means giving your spouse an idea of when you will and will not be around the house.
  3. Be equitable. Both parents deserve some time with the children during the holidays. This might mean one party has Thanksgiving and the other has Christmas, and then flipping the holidays the next year. There are plenty of days during the holiday season to spend with children enjoying memorable times. Do not make those memories be of a police visit, due to a dispute. Share and share alike, and be fair about it.
  4. Be flexible. Do not try to force an event, which typically backfires on people and ends up causing resentment somewhere. You need to be able to read events as they are unfolding and maintain some level of flexibility. If the kids really don’t want to go to your parents for a holiday dinner, ensure their feelings are incorporated into your plans somehow. Whether that means talking with them about why they don’t want to go to grandmas or decreasing the amount of time spent there, is up to you. 
  5. Do not overdo it. I have seen a tendency for divorced or separating parents to try and outdo the other parent through gifts, parties, decorations, etc. Try not to fall into that trap and, if you can, have some discussion in advance of what budget restraints each of you will put on gift giving.

Finally, breathe. The holidays last for approximately five weeks, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. You can and will make it through this. Do it with fairness, patience, and planning.

Happy Holidays!