"What do we do about Christmas?" This is a question that comes up in most mediations involving child custody. When I first started practicing law in 1987, the judges awarded one parent custody and the other visitation according to “Schedule A” and “Schedule B”. The courts ordered alternate holidays on even and odd years consistent with the schedule. This is a quick and efficient way to figure out what to do about the holidays and some courts continue to order this rigid structure.
But what about the children? In mediation or collaborative law, you are not stuck with Schedule A or Schedule B. You are able to tailor your holiday celebrations with your children consistent with your own family traditions and celebrations. Sometimes this might result in a with alternating Christmases in even and odd years. More often, it allows you to find a way to accommodate your own treasured traditions and create new ones.
Whether I’m working in a collaborative law case or in mediation, we work to make all holidays, including Christmas, peaceful, unique and special for the children. We strive to find ways to maximize the children’s time with their families and extended families while allowing the traditions that are important to the children to continue. In this post I'll explore some of the questions to ask when the parents are living within a few hours of each other.
Begin by thinking about specific days and events.
What is important about Christmas to the father and his extended family? Do they attend Christmas Eve religious service every year? Do the cousins come to visit on the 26th? Does the paternal grandmother make a big dinner on Christmas afternoon? Does the father take the children out to cut down the tree on 15th? Think of everything that the father’s family does together and that the father has done with the children and make a list.
What is important about Christmas to the mother and her extended family? Do they attend the Christmas parade every year? Does her brother’s family watch football with the children on New Year’s Day? Does the maternal grandmother make a big breakfast on Christmas morning? Does mom like to set up a cookie baking session? Think of everything and make a list.
Next: Think about some new ideas.
What have you left out? Are there some new traditions you might want to start? Make a list of some ideas for new traditions. Focus on traditions that could be scheduled on days other than the 24th and 25th.
Once you have the lists, examine what’s on the list are traditions that you both agree would be good to create or continue. Select those that the children treasure. Be mindful of the importance of extended family to your children and how you can build those relationships. Consider what you want for your children to remember about Christmas when they are adults. How can you create and maintain as many of those as possible? How can you divide them so that the children are spending a lot of time with both extended families?
The tough question-Christmas morning.
Once a preliminary list is created and you have come close to sharing the time around Christmas, you may find that you have the beginning of a great schedule, but that you are left with Christmas Eve night and Christmas morning. Often both parents want to spend time with the children from late on Christmas Eve through Christmas morning. What do you do then?
- When parents are newly separated, they often get together Christmas morning at one house or the other to open gifts.
- Parents can alternate, by even and odd years, who has the children during those times while scheduling the rest of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to create and maintain traditions.
- Parents can also decide that they want to create new traditions by having one parent always have the children on Christmas Eve until late and open gifts then, while the other always has them early on Christmas morning, perhaps returning the children to have Christmas dinner with the parent who had them Christmas Eve.
Create a wonderful, happy holiday for your children.
The most important thing about the children’s holiday schedule is that the parents work together to create a schedule that is going to create a beautiful, conflict free holiday for their children where they can spend time with both parents. Parents should focus on the children, and building their memories and relationships, to avoid getting caught up in counting minutes to be sure that the parents think the schedule is “fair.”
In order to make this happen, parents should plan as early as possible to meet and create a schedule. If the parents are not able to communicate in a way to address the children’s needs, they should work with a mediator who can help them communicate and create a beautiful holiday for their children.