Helping Your Children Get Through the Holidays

Holiday time can be difficult, even for an intact family.  However, if you add the additional stress of a marital breakup, the difficulties can be overwhelming for children.   Here are a few tips to making the school vacation more bearable for everyone:

1.      Have a written Parenting Plan or holiday schedule.   If you are in the divorce process, it may be impossible to have a finalized and complete Parenting Plan in place by the time Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and New Year’s arrive.   But don’t give up!   If no lawyers are involved in the break-up with your spouse, ask your spouse to sit down to outline with you what the holidays will look like for the children.


For the Thanksgiving holiday, if the children are out of school on Wednesday at noon, who picks them up from school and where do the children spend their time until Sunday night?   Be fair!!  If your family always has their holiday feast at noon and her family always has their big event on Thanksgiving night, don’t ask for the children to be with you the entire day!  Compromise.  For example:


·         Dad could have the children from after school on Wednesday until 3:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.  Then they can go with Mom from 3:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day until 6:00 p.m. on Saturday.  Dad can take them to school on Monday morning.  This allows the children to share the holiday festivities with both families.


·         If Mom’s family lives in another state, and she would like to take the children with her for the entire holiday, Dad may want a 4 day out-of-state trip over Christmas.  Perhaps Mother could offer that Dad can take the children out of state for the whole holiday next Thanksgiving.

Once you have reached an agreement, write it down and have both parents sign it.  If there are lawyers involved, tell you lawyer you want to make a written proposal about holiday timesharing well in advance of the holidays in order to get it resolved prior to the holidays.    Even if the schedule you work out for this year only applies for this year’s holidays, you and your spouse will be on the same page during the holidays about when the children will be exchanged and whether or not there are special events that both parent’s want to attend.

2.      Stick to the holiday plan as agreed.   Once the plan is in place, don’t change it.   The fact is, your spouse is no longer making plans around your and your relatives’ schedules.  Expect that plans will be made during one parent’s timesharing that he/she will not want to change.


If you suddenly learn that Great Aunt Martha will only be in town for 30 minutes on the day the children are with their Dad, you may have to explain to Aunt Martha that you could not arrange for the children to be there this time.   Do not tell the children, “Aunt Martha will be so sad that she couldn’t see you when she was in town!”  The children don’t control the schedule and should never be put in the middle or asked to talk to the other parent about changing the schedule!  Most of all, the children should not be made to feel bad about missing out on an activity or about seeing someone at the other parent’s house.


3.      Make transitions easy for the children.  The children should not be put in the position of disappointing the parent who has arrived to pick them up by not being ready!!   When Dad is throwing clothes into a bag and the 3 year old is crying because she thinks she can’t take her new toy with her while Mom is waiting at the door, everyone feels bad.  And the children are the ones who suffer the most!  Sit down with the children and explain to them what to expect of the holidays this year in advance of the holidays arriving.   Advance warning and preparation are the keys to low-stress transitions.   Make sure the children have pre-packed their bags well ahead of the pick-up parent’s arrival.   Make sure your household’s gift exchange and last meal with the children has happened well in advance of the pick-up time.  The children should select and pack the toy(s) they are taking with them to the other parent’s and be ready to go.


4.      Put on a smile.  The holidays are supposed to be about peace, joy, and spending time with family.  Try to adopt the attitude that your children are going to have the best holidays ever, because they are getting to have special time with one parent and then, after a bit, they will have special time with the other parent.  This is neither a burden, nor a tragedy!!   The children will get to have time with both parents and that is the point!  If the children witness a sad parent who is depressed about sending them to the other parent, the children will feel sad and guilty, worried that it is their fault that Dad is so sad when it is time to go to Mom’s.  How is this fair for the children or good parenting?  Telling the children you expect them to have a very nice time with the other parent gives them permission to have fun!  Telling the children you are looking forward to putting your feet up and relaxing for a while once they have left, releases them from being anxious about Mom being all alone!  You will get through it and so will the children.

This advice is really about putting the children’s needs above the parent’s or anyone else’s’.

This is the best holiday gift two parents can give their children!



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