Joint Custody and the Holidays: How to Keep this Wonderful Time of Year Wonderful for Your Kids
The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone, especially when you consider joint custody and the holidays. But for divorced parents who are forced to split the time they spend with their children with their ex, it can be even more so. While there are millions of divorced people in the United States, sharing custody with an ex-spouse can be difficult, especially during the holidays. And it’s not just about the time or the special moments like waking up on Christmas morning or lighting the menorah, there’s also the issue of gifts, vacation, travel, new traditions and new partners.
Depending on the custody agreement, some parents may have their children during the holidays only every other year, which means one lonely mom or dad is left finding other meaningful ways to celebrate. But it’s not just parents that can feel the sting of these arrangements, children also experience sadness and stress as a result of not being with one of their parents. With that in mind, here are some useful tips for parents with joint custody on how to handle the holidays and what you can do to make it easier and more enjoyable for all of you.
1. Remember, it’s not about you or your ex
Although the holidays can be very important to you and your ex, it’s critical to remember that it’s equally important, if not more so to your children. This is the time that they are creating lifelong memories and the last thing you want is for them to grow up with unhappy childhood experiences that will sour their spirit for the season. With that in mind, resist the urge to argue or disagree with your ex on holiday matters, especially in front of the children. If you must discuss holiday arrangements, do so without the kids present.
2. Plan ahead
If your custody agreement calls for you to have the children every other year on holidays and this year is not yours, make plans to do something with other family members of close friends so you don’t feel lonesome or sad. While you will miss spending that time with your children, keep in mind how much time you do spend with them.
Plan special activities to enjoy with them before or after the holidays and let them know that you’re okay and that you want them to have fun. Reassuring them that you are okay will help soften the blow for them—children often feel a sense of responsibility for their divorced parent’s happiness, especially when they can’t be with them during the holidays. If you don’t make a big deal, it won’t be a big deal.
3. Don’t be a Disneyland parent
The holidays are often a time for people to go out and spend exorbitant amounts of money to win over the affection of their loved ones. While it may be nice to shower your children with the most popular gift of the season, it’s important to remember the spirit of the season and to stay away from unrealistic or overly expensive presents. It’s also important not to try and outdo your ex by buying gifts that you know he/she cannot afford.
Instead, talk with your ex ahead of time and come up with an agreement on how much you’ll each spend and how many presents each child will receive. And remember, intentionally buying gifts that you know your ex would not approve of will only cause harm and confusion to your children—so as rule, don’t do it.
4. Make it “business as usual”
Structure and routine is important to children, so if you can stick to holiday traditions that you’ve always done, try to continue on with them as much as possible. Even if those traditions may be differently executed without your spouse, your children will feel a sense of security, comfort and familiarity if you stick with them.
5. Be open to sharing
Although spending any time with your ex-spouse may seem like a tortuous idea, consider sharing some of the time during the holidays so that the kids can spend time with both of you. If you are able, allow your ex to come over on Christmas morning to watch the kids open their gifts or invite him/her to come by for latkes on one out of the eight nights of Hanukah. If grandparents or other relatives are involved in your celebrations, be sure to let them know your plan ahead of time so you can avoid any awkwardness or angry behaviors—after all, it’s about the kids.
6. Take the high road
Sometimes giving in for the sake of the children is a better route to take. If your ex is demanding and difficult and there’s no formal holiday visitation agreement, give it your all to set your own feelings aside and do what will make it a peaceful holiday for the children. If he/she wants Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day, consider how much it will really matter if you let them have their way. In the end, you’ll not only be making it easier for your children, you’ll be showing them how to handle these kinds of conflicts in a calm, diplomatic manner.
7. Fly solo
If you’re in a new relationship and are thinking about inviting your new love to the holiday festivities, think again. Depending on the situation (how long you’ve been seeing each other and how well your children know this person), it’s better to focus on the children and not cause friction with your ex. Think it through and if you’re determined to include your new boyfriend or girlfriend, discuss it with your ex ahead of time to avoid a difficult encounter.
The holidays can be a magical time and if you plan ahead, you can make sure that you and your children enjoy it to the fullest. Review these tips and remember that in the end, it’s not about gifts and outdoing your ex, it’s all about your children and building memories they can look back on with fondness.