(Yes, You Should be Thinking About this NOW…)
We made it through another holiday season – how was it for your family? Was it smooth and peaceful? If you are divorced, there’s a good change it was anything but.
The holidays can truly be the most joyful times of the year, but they can also be filled with strife – for both you and your children – when disagreements and power struggles arise over who gets the children when. Below are some important tips for you to consider now – or at least far in advance of the next holidays – to make everything smoother and keep your family happy.
By the way, these tips also apply to birthdays and other special celebratory moments.
- Have a Written Holiday Visitation Schedule
At a minimum, you need to develop a holiday visitation schedule to minimize the emotion of the season and clearly lay out a plan.
We’re often asked “when should I plan for the next year’s holiday visitation schedule? Our answer: “How about January 2?!”
Far too many parents do not have a written holiday visitation schedule that is self-executing. It happens. It needs to be dealt with.
Addressing it in late December, or even late November, causes chaos, stress and no good ever comes from it, right?
So acknowledge that it needs to be done, and get to work.
- Create a Parenting Plan
Even better than a stand-alone holiday visitation schedule is a more comprehensive parenting plan.
In the course of a divorce involving children, the parents often develop a parenting plan that determines how they share time with the children. This plan, of course, includes various holidays and special occasions.
Face it, the end-of-the-year holiday season is one of the most important family times of the year, and it requires special thought about how best to plan it around potentially new family relationships, as well as parents who are not living together.
- Focus on the Children First, Then Yourselves
Think about it from the perspective of a child. What does a child want to see at the holidays? It’s not just gifts! I will tell you from decades of experience that it’s peace, happiness and steady predictability.
A child cares about his or her parents’ happiness as much as the child’s own happiness. Please take a minute and let that sink in!
A child cares about his or her parents’ happiness as much as the child’s own happiness. (I wrote it twice just in case you didn’t take that moment to let it sink in!)
With that in mind, give it a go, as early as January, and try to reach out to the other parent and put together a neutral, fair parenting plan.
- Get Some Help!
If it feels like the two of you are not able to work through these arrangements on your own, it can be very helpful to involve a family law attorney, a child therapist or a family mediator. Take it from the professionals. They can move your both forward, as long as you both want to move forward.
Sure, there will be some parents who will not to be part of a positive process. But a highly experienced family law attorney will know how to take care of them.
- Alternate Years
So, what could one of these parenting plans look like? From a practical perspective, it often helps to look further into the future than just the currently upcoming holiday season. A good way to help plans feel fair to both sides is to alternate them – i.e. the time Parent A gets in year 1 goes to Parent B in year 2, and vice versa. Balance is the key to both parents buying into the parenting plan.
Alternatively, your family may have traditions around the holidays themselves, such as travelling to visit relatives, skiing vacations, or other issues that may need to be considered in creating a plan that best fits your situation.
The parenting plan is a great place to create new traditions, too! Start early and give your children their holiday present in advance: a stress-free holiday season. You’ll be glad you did it – and so will your kids!