For many children of divorced or split families, the holidays present challenges. Children are bombarded in the media by images of happy homes and families, especially at Christmas. A Child’s reality, though, may be quite different. Families that have experienced a divorce or where the parents do not live together, face a different set of norms when the holidays arrive. The normal course of a holiday for these Children often involves traveling mid-day from one parent to the other—leaving one parent just as the fun is starting and arriving at the other parent’s home just as the fun has concluded. Now, leaving the fun or arriving too late for the fun may not actually be what is happening at either parent’s home; but this is how it often feels to a Child. They are not settled in for the day, they are facing a potentially stressful exchange to the other parent and they simply cannot be present in the moment of holiday happiness. They are on a schedule—one that you created—not one they asked for. This article touches briefly upon the complex issue of holiday parenting time and presents one point of view and interpretation. It is not meant, by any means, as a thorough discussion of this issue nor is it to be interpreted as a legal opinion nor relied upon for legal advice.
So, what can you do to prevent a dreaded holiday for your Child due to child custody issues? Instead of splitting the actual holiday day, such as December 25th or Thanksgiving Day or a birthday, why not allow for whole days and nights and larger blocks of time where the Child can stay put for a while? This allows the Child to enjoy what each parent has to offer without concerns that confrontation or having to leave will interrupt the experience. Also, it allows for your Child to double their fun as they have a second holiday with the other parent.
The first step in remedying the holiday division dilemma, is to realize that the answer to a happy holiday is about the Child—NOT about you, the parent. Set aside what you want for the holiday and see the holiday through the eyes of your Child. Does it really matter to your Child if he or she has turkey at your house and turkey at the other parent’s house on the same day? Is opening presents ONLY on Christmas morning what really matters to your Child or is it you that demands this schedule? Does the holiday always have to involve shuttling over to the other parent’s home? Is it, instead, possible to spread the holiday out over a number of days—especially if it will make your Child happy?
For a Child, there is no such thing as too many holiday celebrations (think: two Christmases or two Kwanzas or two Hanukah celebrations during the winter break!). Two birthday celebrations—one when you have your Child and one when the other parent has the Child– can only be a good thing. No Child has ever complained that on their birthday(s) they were made to feel too special and too celebrated and received too many gifts… You get the idea, here, right? You owe it to your Child to make the holiday about THEM, not you.
During your Child’s winter break from school, Christmas Day presents problem for many divorced families. How should the day be divided? If you asked your Child and if they told you what they really wanted, many would say that they prefer to spend the whole day one place rather than the stress and conflict that accompanies an exchange halfway through the day. Why not, instead, divide the holiday parenting time using the whole winter break rather than just the one day, December 25th? Instead, you and the other parent can divide the break with one parent taking the first half and the other the second half of the break. The following year you and the other parent will switch the first and second halves. This gives you an opportunity to share the holiday; and your Child a larger block of time with you—and with the other parent—and allows BOTH parents to create a celebration and holiday in the moment—your Child’s moment. Once you understand that for your Child the day does not matter as much as the experience, you can begin to create a holiday or birthday experience before or after the actual day–that will make your Child truly happy.