If you’re stressing about how to deal with parenting arrangements over the holidays, take comfort in the fact that you’re definitely not alone in this.
Dealing with separation and the divorce process is difficult enough. Add to that trying to work out who gets the kids at Christmas, New Year, Easter, and other important dates in between, and it can feel like you’re walking through a minefield trying to keep everyone happy.
One of the trickiest times of the year to negotiate as a divorced parent can be the long summer school holidays. The kids are off school for at least 6 weeks, sometimes even longer. Plus you’ve got Christmas and New Year public holidays which are often a time for many family celebrations.
Spread those across two-family homes and potentially blended families as well and it’s not hard to see why parenting arrangements over the holidays can feel like walking a tightrope, trying to keep the balance – and the peace.
Ella Hickman, from Hickman Family Lawyers in Perth (Western Australia), knows the stresses and strains that come with parenting after separation and divorce. Her family law firm has worked with hundreds of separating families through both divorce mediation as well as going to Family Court to decide on both financial and children’s matters.
Here Ella has put together her top tips on how to deal with parenting arrangements over the holidays, gleaned from countless hours spent with her family law clients.
Clearly define the holidays
The first place you need to start is to define the holiday periods for your family before you can fairly decide with whom the children will be spending what holiday.
If you have school-aged children, their school calendars would be the first thing to look at to work out your family’s specific holiday period/s. Remember, different schools may operate according to different term dates.
This would need to be done for any holiday periods that apply to your family. Consider regular annual trips you may take, school holidays, and important religious or cultural holidays or celebrations.
Next, define which holidays are of particular significance to one or both parents, and try to find a way to accommodate either or both parents’ needs.
There are bound to be days, such as Christmas, Easter, birthdays, and other celebrations, that you may both want to spend with your children. However, to avoid any conflict, both of you must be prepared to compromise. For example, consider splitting significant days equally, or alternating years when it comes to big events like birthdays or Christmas.
Remember to put your children first
Holidays should be joyous occasions for kids. So if their parents are able to put their own emotions aside and put the needs of their children first, it can result in making life that tiny bit easier and less stressful for everyone.
Putting your children first shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do as a parent. Their needs should always be your priority.
Planning well ahead for all of the significant holidays throughout the year, as well as knowing what to expect, can provide kids with a wonderful sense of anticipation and excitement before the holiday even arrives. It can also help make the actual holiday a better experience for them.
By planning ahead, children can feel a sense of security and certainty. It also allows time for either or both parents to change plans if something crops up unexpectedly (which often happens!)
Talk to your kids about the holiday plans
Talking to your kids about their upcoming holiday plans will make them feel that they too have a say, and will help you to understand what they really want from it. This can then enable you and your ex to make their holiday a much more memorable occasion.
By checking in with them regularly, you will also learn of their current needs, any specific emotions they may be experiencing, or any other concerns they may have. Giving them a voice and allowing them to express their wishes when it comes to where they want to spend their holidays and what they want to do will help them feel like it’s a family decision.
Of course, it’s not always possible to say yes to everything they may want. But allowing them to state their opinions and having an open discussion about things like holiday arrangements can help them to feel part of the decision-making process.
No matter how difficult your relationship with your ex may be, when it comes to making arrangements that involve the kids, both parents need to be as flexible as possible and do their utmost to accommodate each other’s needs.
There is no escape from co-parenting. You’re in this together. Instead of adopting a tit-for-tat attitude, try a more personable give-and-take approach. This should allow both parents to spend time and celebrate the holidays and special occasions that mean the most for them with their children. Always look for a win-win solution when it comes to parenting arrangements.
Also, the more flexible you can be with your ex when their plans unexpectedly change, the more flexible they might be prepared to be in return.
Communicate clearly with your ex
If you’re having difficulty maintaining a civil relationship with your ex, you need to take special care when you are communicating with them, no matter what form the communication takes – verbal or written.
Try to stay in control of your emotions when you are talking with them, and if you’re writing an email or text message, re-read it with as much objectivity as you can muster. Sometimes words can be taken the wrong way, causing unnecessary interpretations and subsequently emotional reactions.
Plan exactly what you need to say, writing or speaking clearly not giving any cause for a potential misunderstanding. Another tip is to remain focused only on the issue at hand when communicating with each other. Avoid getting bogged down with other issues, or past actions or words spoken – this will never be helpful when trying to resolve current issues on the table.
Old and new traditions
Retaining all the old family traditions would be an ideal outcome following a separation or divorce, but when couples separate and families split, that may not always be possible. But it doesn’t have to feel like the end of the world. Perhaps, just as important is to start to create new family traditions.
For example, if it’s not possible for both parents to spend Christmas Day with the children at the same time, consider celebrating a ‘second Christmas’ on Boxing Day or any other day you choose.
There is no right or wrong way to spend the holidays. So work out what you believe is best for your family but also what is feasible or even possible, making it fair for everyone involved.
Parenting Plans are drawn up voluntarily by the two parents, usually with the assistance of a mediator or a family lawyer. They should include parenting arrangements for the customary school holiday periods and for all special occasions, such as birthdays, family celebrations, and religious and cultural events.
The advantage of a Parenting Plan is that it is flexible and may be renegotiated in the future. It’s also less costly. But Parenting Plans are only suitable if an amicable relationship already exists between the parents.
The downside of a Parenting Plan is that it is not enforceable by the Courts.
The most obvious way of permanently avoiding any conflict over parenting arrangements over the holidays? Draw up a Parenting Order as part of the divorce or separation settlement, or any time after.
A Parenting Order is an order issued by the Court regarding all parenting arrangements for children. The conditions of the order are based on either the agreement reached by the divorcing parents through mediation or by a judgement handed down at a court hearing.
It can cover all issues relating to the care of children, including custody, living arrangements, specific time/s they will spend with the other parent, schooling, and more.
If a Parenting Order is put in place, both parents will need to comply with the terms stated in it. Most lawyers or mediators strongly recommend having a Parenting Order drawn up, particularly for high conflict separations.
Consult a child custody lawyer
If you’re still finding it difficult to negotiate or communicate with your ex regarding parenting arrangements over the holidays, seek professional advice.
Speak to a child custody lawyer or mediator in your area and let them take out all the stress for you and your family. That is what they train to do, and are experienced in doing, making them well-placed to help you make your parenting arrangements over the holidays as stress-free as possible.