In my previous post, I described some of the ways that I’ve seen families restructure their holiday celebrations after the parents’ separation to preserve treasured traditions and to create new practices. In that post, we explored the potential when mom and dad live close to each another. It’s a different situation when the parents houses are more than a couple of hours apart. Thinking through several questions, in mediation or in a collaborative environment, will help to create a customized plan for your family.
What are the traditions that are important to the family and can they be continued?
Has the family celebrated pre-holiday traditions such as baking or decorating or looking for the perfect tree? Can those be continued? Could the children spend their Thanksgiving break with the parent who they don’t live with during the school year to get a head start? Could they bake or decorate or shop after Thanksgiving break once they return to the home where they live during the school year?
Another option could be to put some of those traditions off until the school recesses for the Christmas holiday. The children could spend the first part of the winter break in the house they don’t live in during the school year to “catch up” on some of the activities that might have been missed leading up to Christmas.
If there are specific traditions that happen on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, how difficult will it be for the children to travel in the evening on Christmas Eve? Can that drive be pleasant? If not, the parents might want to consider whether some traditions might occur on another day so that the children don’t wind up spending their Christmas Eve or Christmas Day traveling.
Is that difficult? It’s not easy—but it is possible. There is nothing that prohibits a family from opening gifts on the morning of December 26th or having a big dinner with extended family and friends on December 29th. Thinking creatively and with an open mind will generate some good options.
What to do about the winter break?
Winter break tends to begin sometime between December 19 and December 23 and continue until sometime between January 1 and January 6. Many families like to divide the break in half so that the children spend time with both families. Depending on the distance, the children may move between households on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Depending on what works for the families, they can return to the house where they go to school a few days before going to back to school. Parents should meet in October or early November and develop a schedule. That way the children, the parents, the grandparents, and the cousins can plan their holidays around the children.
What about alternating years?
Some families like to alternate Christmases. That might mean that the mother has the children for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on even years and the father on odd years. Some families alternate the entire winter break.
What if one parent doesn’t celebrate Christmas?
Again, when you decide to use mediation or collaborative law to create your parenting plan, you are not required to do anything that you don’t agree to. If one parent’s family does not celebrate Christmas, the most logical schedule may provide for the children to be with one parent for Christmas, but spend some time over the break with both parents. Of course, if there is another holiday that the parent’s family celebrates such as Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Eid Al-Adha, the parents may create a schedule so that the child is always with that family for some or all of that holiday.
And if we have to work?
The holiday period can become more complicated when both parents work. When parents can get their work scheduled determined as early as possible and share it with the other parent, you will most likely be able to create a schedule that will maximize the time with the parents, with the extended family and minimize the necessity for outside child care. Even when parents have an employer who can’t or won’t provide a schedule in advance, the parents can plan to meet as soon as the schedule is available to compare schedules and develop the best holiday plan within the restrictions of the schedule. The late notice will require additional cooperation and may necessitate more compromise.
When the parents can’t agree on the holiday schedule. What then?
If you can’t agree on how to schedule holidays, you can always select a mediator. Even if one parent must appear via video connection, parents can often work together within that format to create the win-win agreement for the children. Another option is for the parents to work with a conflict coach to manage the conflict to improve communication and cooperative decision-making. If these options are impossible, the parents can always retain attorneys and request that the judge create your schedule for you. That schedule will never be as specifically tailored to your circumstances as one that you develop. It may also cause you to incur significant expenses in attorney fees. Typically, this route also escalates the conflict. If you decide you prefer to litigate your children’s holiday schedule, you should select an attorney and file any pleadings in June or July so that there is plenty of time to address the issue before holiday plans are made.
Is there any thing most important about the holiday schedule?
Please remember that your children are only children for a few years. The Christmases that they enjoy as children will be part of their memories forever. Even if they open presents on a different day or bake cookies a month ahead and freeze them, you are creating treasured memories. Parents can work hard to keep the great memories from being overshadowed by disagreements, yelling, and negative remarks. In the words of Mrs. Doubtfire: “(S)ome (families) live in separate homes, in separate neighborhoods, in different areas of the country - and they may not see each other for days, or weeks, months... even years at a time. But if there's love, dear... those are the ties that bind, and you'll have a family in your heart, forever.”