The holidays are very hard for parents when they are going through a divorce or are divorced. No parent wants to spend a holiday without his or her child. In a perfect world the parents would get along well enough to spend the holidays together with the child. This would include the parent's new spouse and children. However, this is not a perfect world and this happening occurs only in rare circumstances. I think I have had only two or three divorced families that have been able to do this. How did they manage to work out their differences enough to be able to celebrate together? They put the child first and did what was necessary to obtain this goal. Not every family can do this and not every family should. If there is domestic abuse or if the parents cannot control the animosity towards each other, they should not attempt it. However, they should attempt to work out the specifics of the holidays so as not to make the child feel guilty about spending the holiday with one parent and not the other. Parents should never put the child in the middle of their disagreements over the holiday (or any other custody/visitation period). It is hard enough for the child to be separated from one parent during the holidays without being placed in the middle of the parents' disagreements. The following are tips that should help in working out the holidays.
1. Plan Ahead
Develop a parenting schedule before the holidays.
Avoid scheduling the children for dinner with Dad at noon and a second turkey dinner a few hours later with Mom. Instead, arrange for Dad to spend the entire day with the children in all odd-numbered years, and have Mom spend the holiday with them in all even-numbered years.
If possible, hire a parenting coordinator or mediator, usually a child psychologist or divorce lawyer appointed by the court to act as a decision-maker until a judge makes a different decision. You have quicker access to the coordinator/mediator than the judge, but the coordinator/mediator must be paid.
2. Keep Your Word
Stick to the schedule. Arrive on time and drop off the child on time.
3. Keep in Touch
If the child is not with you for the holidays, call, and be sure to send cards or email. Consider celebrating the holiday or birthday before or after the actual day. Children love parties and gifts any time - nothing fancy - but something special you create just for them.
4. Let the Child Keep in Touch
If the child spends the holiday with you, let them speak with the other parent. Give the child any cards and email from the other parent, and read the messages to young children who cannot read. If the child is too young to call, help make or receive a call, and let the child have a quiet moment to speak with the other parent. Make sure to avoid planning an exciting activity like gift-opening at the same time that the child is scheduled to speak with Mom or Dad.
Remember, children usually have a short attention span, so do not blame the other parent if conversations are short.
5. Safe Travel
Make travel arrangements with airlines for long-distance travel. Airlines provide supervision for unaccompanied minors for a nominal fee.
6. The Art of Gift-Giving
Coordinate gift-giving with the other parent. Do not give your child a cell phone if you know Mom is giving her a phone. If your ex-spouse will not cooperate, go ahead with your own plans, but do not complain to the child about the other parent.
7. Acknowledge the Child's Right to Enjoyment
Let your child take gifts to your ex-spouse's home. Conversely, if your child brings home a new toy or bicycle, let your child take it back to Dad's home, if the child wants.
8. To Each His Own
Let the child spend Mother's Day with Mom and Father's Day with Dad.
9. Create Your Own Celebrations
Do not insist upon attending your child's birthday or graduation party if your ex-spouse is throwing the party. Give your own party on another day.
10. Give Your Child Permission to Love Both Parents
Help your child buy or make a gift and card for the other parent, if the child is too young to handle the tasks himself or herself. You are doing your child a favor, not your ex-spouse, because you are giving your child permission to love the other parent - the best gift you can give.