For family law attorneys, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . . fights over holiday parenting time. The holiday season is often a time of stress, and sometimes of sadness, for everyone. For separating or divorcing parents or newly divorced parents, fighting over how to divide holiday time with their children, there is additional sadness and distress. Every year as a matrimonial attorney I see the stress on separating couples and their children as they either try to adhere to traditional holiday celebrations for the sake of their children, or as they try to adjust with their children to the inevitable new traditions that are going to have to be made as parents separate and cannot spend the full holiday season with they traditionally would, but have to share it. The stress can be additional as grandparents weigh in and wish to spend time with their grandchildren, and when one or both parents begin new relationships that pulls on them or whispers in their ear at holiday time as well.
How can you avoid some of the pitfalls of disputes with your “ex” that can derail the holidays with your children? Here, are a few tips:
- Consider the stress and worry that you and your ex are putting the children under when you argue about holiday parenting time. Parents usually want Christmas to be a magical time for the children. It is not magical when they are aware that their parents are fighting over them. Also, children often come to feel that they are the cause or the source of what their parents are arguing over. This can create needless feelings of guilt, worry and unhappiness that can ruin the holidays for them.
- Be reasonable when it comes to allowing your ex time over the holidays with the children. You do not need to be a doormat for your ex and do whatever he/she demands whenever he/she demands it. But your children deserve time with each parent over the holidays. If you and your ex are able to still celebrate the holiday together with the children, that is terrific. But many separated or divorced couples are not able to do this. Respect and honor one another’s family traditions and desire to spend some time over the holidays with the children. Allow the children to make new memories as well. Allow the children to express love and joy for the holidays with each parent.
- You do not have to respond or escalate every negative thing that your ex might say to you during a dispute about holiday parenting time or holiday celebrations. Again, you do not have to be abused or be a doormat. But these kinds of disputes can become emotional. If your ex becomes angry, keep your response civil or friendly, brief, simple and informative. And leave it at that.
- Do not denigrate your ex or your ex’s family or friends to or in front of the children. Allow the children to experience the holidays and express love and joy with the other parent and the other parent’s family with out imposing your own negativity. Sometimes when a family member is going through a divorce or separation or ending a relationship, there is a tendency of family members to gather together and discuss or chat about that situation. Discourage your friends and family members from engaging in such discussions about any litigation, court battles or disagreements involving your ex to or in front of the children and ask them to have such discussions with you privately. Tell your friends and family not to disparage or criticize your to or in front of the children.
- Do not cause the children guilt or worry because the children are spending Christmas-time with the other parent. Some parents choose to alternate the Christmas holiday, which means that some children are spending Christmas day with just one parent this year, and then Christmas day with the other parent next year. You, your ex and/or your children may have some nostalgia about past Christmas celebrations when the family was together and the fact that the family is changing and will not be the same as it once was can cause sadness in yourself and/or your children. If your children are not with you on Christmas day this year, do not cause the children to feel guilt or worry over you. Plan something special, and create a new Christmas memory or tradition on Christmas Eve with the children if that is when you have them or whatever day or days you have that are the closest to Christmas. You are going to have a year of opportunities for special memories and traditions to make with your children. Do not put so much emphasis on the holiday itself.
- Do not go overboard on gifts or over-compensate with gifts for the children because you feel guilty about the divorce. If the children are having difficulty adjusting to the divorce, an abundance of gifts is not inclined to fix that. Also, the holiday time is not a time for you and your ex to engage in a competition for your children’s affection by trying to buy the most gifts or the most expensive gifts. You might not want to hear it, but your children might take advantage of you and your spouse in order to get what they want, not only at the holidays but throughout the year.
- Remember that this holiday time often consists of more than one day and can be enjoyed over more than one day. If the children are not with you on Christmas Day this year, consider the fact that the Christmas season and the memories that can be created occur on more than just on Christmas Day itself. You can enjoy Christmas throughout the month and plan many activities that you and your children might enjoy to celebrate the holiday. You can shop and wrap gifts together, make and decorate Christmas cookies, decorate your home for Christmas, watch Christmas movies or see a Christmas show or musical, go to New York and go ice skating or to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, visit relatives and friends, participate in religious celebrations, take a weekend trip, etc.
We at the office of James P. Yudes, A Professional Corporation wish you and your family the happiest of holidays and we are looking forward to offering whatever help we can in the coming new year.