The holidays are a time for family and joy, but for divorced parents, they are often a time of sadness and even depression. In conventional custody arrangements, parents typically alternate holidays. For the parents unable to see their children at the holidays, it can be a particularly lonely and difficult time.
With more than four million divorced parents in the United States, parents who are struggling at this time of year should know they are not alone.
Make Plans in Advance
To avoid conflict, stress, and unnecessary frustration, sort out the details of “who’s doing what” well in advance. Communication and planning are the key most important things if you want the day to go smoothly.
Discuss with your ex all the specifics of the day’s plans, including:
- Pick-up times
In some cases, this information is already included in the custody agreement, but it may not be. If not, make arrangements with your ex, and make sure the plans are in writing (or through email).
Having a plan and all the details sorted out will make the holidays run smoothly, so everyone can enjoy their time.
Focus on the Kids
Whatever your disagreements, the holidays are all about the children, and making them happy. As a parent, you want your child to have a happy and fun holiday, so focus on achieving that goal.
For the sake of your children, avoid arguments. If an argument is unavoidable, do not put the kids in the middle, and try to hash things out far away from their eyes and ears.
Some exes still get along after divorce and have no problem singing carols, lighting Hanukkah candles, or attending family parties together. Remember that this is the exception – not the norm. Many couples have a hard time spending time together without arguing.
If you can push aside your disagreements and be civil, it may be worth considering doing more activities together. However, if you and your ex can’t even be in the same room together, it will only do more harm than good to try and force more time together.
Set a Budget for Gifts
Consider talking to your ex about setting a budget for gifts, and sorting how many gifts each of you will give the kids. Also, decide whether all of the gifts will be opened at one home, or split between each parent’s home.
It may be tempting to try and outdo your former partner, but doing so will only cause more grief.
Don’t use gifts to impress the kids or anger your ex.
Sort out the details of whose giving what and where, so the kids can enjoy the gift-giving aspect of the holidays.
Keep Traditions Going
Family traditions are common during the holidays, and children often look forward to them each year. Now that you’re divorced, that annual trip to the Christmas tree farm and visit with Santa may not be with both parents.
If you have established traditions, try to keep them going. If you and your ex can remain civil, try having a family day where you carry out these traditions. Doing so will bring back some normalcy and help maintain stability in your child’s life.
Of course, not all traditions can be maintained. For example, if you won’t be cutting down a Christmas tree from the local farm this year, explain this to the kids so that they know what to expect.
One of the most difficult aspects of the holidays is accepting that things will never be the same. While you may be able to keep some traditions going, many others will have to change. Rather than focusing on and clinging to the past, aim to make new traditions that will work with your new family dynamic.
Make Plans for Yourself
Depending on your custody agreement, you may not have any time with the kids, or you may just have a few hours.
Even if you only have an hour to yourself on the holiday, make plans to keep yourself busy. Schedule time with your family, or plan to visit a friend. Keeping yourself busy and focusing on making the best of your time will make holidays more enjoyable for you, the kids and your loved ones.
The holidays can be a fun time that you and the children look forward to, or it can be a stressful time that everyone dreads. Making plans, communicating with your ex, and staying civil can help ensure that the day goes smoothly.
The Micklin Law Group, LLC is a New Jersey law firm focusing on family law for men and fathers. Attorney Brad Micklin was recently named to The National Advocates list of Top 100 attorneys from each state. Brad has experience working with divorces in New Jersey. You can read more on this topic by visiting our divorce blog. To set up a consultation, call 973-562-0100.