One of my daughter’s favorite holiday books is Llama Llama Holiday Drama, about a little llama who gets overwhelmed by the holidays. Unfortunately, getting caught up in “holidrama,” isn’t just for little llamas. Almost everyone experiences some form of their own “holidrama.” This is especially true if you are going through divorce or are sharing the holidays after a divorce. With competing personal, work, family and holiday obligations, the cost of gifts and entertaining, as well as our emotional expectations around time with family and holiday traditions- the holidays can be overwhelming. They can also create situations ripe for arguing over parenting time with your spouse or ex-spouse. My best advice is DON’T, if you can avoid it. Not only will it cost you money in attorney’s fees, but it can also ruin your holidays and maybe your children’s holidays as well.
Here are my top Parenting Time Tips for Avoiding Holiday Drama:
1. Work Out the Details of Holiday Schedules In Advance: Do not wait until the holiday week to realize that you don’t have a schedule. Review your Marital Settlement Agreement or Custody/Parenting Time Order and speak to an attorney early to make sure that you have a detailed schedule for how you are going to share the holidays. Do this early so that you have time to work out any problems in advance. A detailed schedule avoids any confusion and emotionally fraught exchanges and helps to give everyone especially your children a sense of stability;
2. Be Cooperative and Flexible: Remember that co-parenting of your children will be a long relationship and that there are times when you will need concessions for your own schedule or to be flexible because it’s what is in your children’s best interests. I always tell clients to pick their battles and not to fight over things that are fair and reasonable. I suggest that clients think about how they would want to be treated if the shoe were on the other foot. Remember that the more goodwill you create with the other parent, the easier co-parenting your children can become;
3. Fight the Right Battles Sooner Rather than Later: With the above being said, sometimes the other parent is not putting the children’s best interests first or is being unreasonable in a way that threatens your children’s well-being. If you suspect that there will be problems during the holidays, talk to an attorney well in advance so that you have time to go to court if needed or to negotiate a resolution of the problem. Waiting till the last minute can mean that the court may not reach you in time for the holiday;
4. Coordinate Gift Giving: Share your children’s holiday wish lists and coordinate gift giving so that you both feel included and share in costs. The more cooperative and easy Mom and Dad are through the holidays, the more your children can relax and enjoy both of you;
5. Remember Your Ex Will Always Be Your Children’s Parent: Remember that even though your relationship with the other parent may change, this person is still your child’s Mom or Dad. Don’t speak badly of the other parent or their significant other. Rather, do everything you can to encourage your child’s relationship with their other parent. Try to remember that the more people that love and support your children in their lives the better. Mom and Dad (even ones that you might not think are so great) are an irreplaceable source of love. Allow extra phone calls during the holidays, be flexible to allow changes to the parenting time schedule if your child misses their other parent and buy a gift from your children to their other parent;
6. Put Your Children’s Best Interests First: As with the above tips, remember to always think about what is in your children’s best interests, even if it sometimes conflicts with what would make you personally happy. Don’t engage in arguments during parenting time exchanges or send messages through your children. If your child is sick or tired, be cooperative to put your child first;
7. Create New Traditions: Your family life has changed due to divorce, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have new family traditions. Maybe you will be celebrating the holidays on a day other than the holiday itself or maybe you won’t be able to share traditions that you have always enjoyed with your extended family with your children. Make sure to create new traditions with your children. Filling your time with your children with fun and laughter is a good way to let any stress from the season roll right off;
8. Exercise Lots of Self-Care and Self-Compassion: The holidays can be hard even under the best of circumstances. Remember to take time to take care of yourself. You can’t give to your children and others if your tank is empty. Spend time with friends and family, get rest (when you can- I know, I know it’s hard), and be easier on yourself. Maybe you are blaming yourself for the fact that your family is not together, you couldn’t make it to the Christmas concert, you weren’t able to bake 10,000 cupcakes for the school party, you can’t afford the must-have gift or you forgot to move the Elf on a Shelf and now your child thinks they’re on the naughty list- it’s okay. None of us are perfect. Be easy on yourself. The more self-care and self-compassion you show yourself this holiday season, the more bandwidth you will have to negotiate through holiday parenting time and not engage in “holidrama.”
To discuss any concerns about your holiday parenting time and learn how to avoid holiday drama, contact Georgia Fraser, Esq. of Fraser Family Law Office, LLC for a consultation. 609-223-2099.