The holidays are advertised as a time for family and togetherness. While that’s fine in theory, it can make your first holiday season as divorced or separated parents painful. When everyone is talking about spending time together, you may feel like a failure because you can’t spend every day with your kids.
However, it’s important to remember that nationwide, tens of thousands of families celebrate the holidays happily despite divorces and separations. You can, too. When you know what to expect and how to prepare, you can provide your kids with a happy holiday season despite differences in how your celebrations look this year.
Why the Holidays Are Challenging for Newly Divorced Parents
Coparenting has its challenges no matter what time of year it is. However, the holidays pose some particular complications that may not be as serious during other seasons. Some of the biggest issues that can make the holidays more stressful for your family include:
1. Splitting Parenting Time
The most obvious holiday season challenge is how you’ll split parenting time. It’s only natural to want to spend major holidays with your children. However, if you’re sharing custody, your coparent probably wants to spend time with the kids on those days just as much as you do. That can make deciding how to split your parenting time an emotional minefield.
Parents often agree to take turns celebrating certain days with their children. For example, one year, Parent A may get the kids for Thanksgiving, and Parent B gets them for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, then next year, they’ll swap. While this is an excellent solution, the first year you celebrate without your kids present can be painful.
2. Changing Expectations
Many families create traditions around special days, like cooking the turkey together, decorating a Christmas tree, or lighting the menorah in a certain way. When you’re coparenting, these traditions will need to change.
Change isn’t necessarily bad, but it can be stressful and sad. If you or your kids aren’t prepared for the little things that will look different this year, it can make the season more difficult for everyone.
3. Whirling Emotions
With change comes stress and strong emotions. Family holidays make the reality of a divorce or separation finally sink in for many kids. As a result, they may be more likely to act out. Even kids who seem to have accepted the changes to their daily lives may “regress” and throw tantrums or become moody as Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve draw near.
Think of it this way: the upcoming celebrations may make you more emotional, and you’re an adult. If the season is difficult for you, imagine how much harder it might feel for your children, who have little control over what’s happening. They’re not behaving badly on purpose; they are reacting to a major life event the only way they know how.
Strategies for Handling the Holidays as Coparents
The challenges of the holidays can be substantial. Still, it’s possible to celebrate the season and make good memories despite the obstacles, even if it’s more subdued than normal. Here are a few strategies you can use to help your festivities run smoothly while coparenting:
1. Make Plans Early
Many coparents establish how they’ll share the holidays when they write their initial parenting plan. However, if you didn’t do so or your custody agreement doesn’t specify how kids will get from one place to the other, now is the time to figure things out.
The earlier you establish a plan for each holiday, the easier it is to set expectations with your kids. That’s crucial for helping them adjust to their new family reality.
2. Communicate Regularly
It’s worth talking to your coparent about your kids regularly, not just when you need to make a plan. Discuss how your children are doing and any changes to their needs or schedules. Keeping an open line of communication makes it easier to tweak your holiday plans if necessary without the matter becoming a major argument.
In addition, it’s worth talking to your coparent to coordinate gifts. The last thing you want to do is to give your child two copies of the same item. Chat about your present plans to avoid pressure to overspend or one-up each other.
3. Manage Expectations
Remember, the holidays aren’t just about you. Your child probably has hopes and expectations for the season, too. It’s important to discuss matters with them so you can make sure they understand what is and isn’t possible.
For example, many kids hold out hope that the holidays will magically bring the family back together. If that’s the case, kindly explain to your children how the holidays will be separate this year, but still fun. It can help to create new, exciting traditions to replace the old, rather than just dropping old traditions entirely.
4. Consider the Extended Family
Your kids have family ties beyond you and your coparent. While your children should be your first priority, you must address extended family members, too. Communicate with your relatives about when the kids will be around so no one is surprised and upset when they aren’t present.
If possible, it’s also worth scheduling extra celebrations with extended family. Maybe you can’t celebrate Christmas on the 25th with the kids, but what about the 27th? Having an “extra” holiday can help your kids maintain strong relationships with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members, even if they can’t be there on the day.
Get Help With Your Holiday Parenting Plan
If you’re preparing a parenting plan for this holiday season, you don’t have to do it alone. At CC LawGroup, our experienced custody lawyers can help you develop a fair parenting and custody order that makes the holidays a little easier to handle. Schedule your consultation with our Newark family law office to discuss your custody concerns and learn how we can help.