Regardless of your faith, or lack thereof, the American holiday season is upon us. Few would disagree that Halloween is the preseason opener and Thanksgiving the actual kick-off to the holiday season. It really doesn’t matter what you believe; you recognize these holidays and have a manner of dealing with them. Over time, the method of recognizing or ignoring holidays becomes a family tradition, one which establishes our footing in the world. When we marry, we bring these traditions with us and try to build them into our new family. As children are born, we build these traditions around our children and the modern reality that life and career may move us far from our place of origin.
Further complicating Holiday traditions is the American phenomenon of the “Snow Bird”, that elusive grandparent or elder relative who lives in the North in the summer, only to retreat to all places warm for the winter. The point is, we may live remotely at holiday time from our extended family, rendering holiday family time a logistic nightmare. When families are integrated and parents are committed to pleasing not only the kids at holiday time but one’s spouse, concessions are made so that the celebration of these important events can be shared with “nana” and “grampie”.
Oftentimes, when divorce begins, the predilection to work cooperatively with one’s spouse evaporates. Some spouses in the midst of divorce use a holiday to punish the other spouse for perceived wrongs; others simply refuse to compromise as they chose to divorce because of a sense that the marriage lacked a power balance. The reason for the inflexibility is really not as important as the impact on the new family unities the divorce is creating. Thanksgiving is upon us, quickly followed by Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan or whatever religious or non-religious holiday is your personal choice. I understand the millennials have even created “Christmasween”. If you have children in common with your former significant other, here are some things to think about when negotiating holiday time sharing:
1) Holidays are stressors, as is divorce. In stressful situation, one tends to run to a place of safety. By acting unselfishly, you can show your kids that you are that safe place. Kids are the proverbial “monkeys in the middle” during the holidays. Letting them go, and accommodating your spouse’s needs may be the greatest gift you can give your kids.
2) Holidays are about building family. Your kids need to have a connection with all of their family. You need to give your spouse the space he/she needs to build a realistic family tradition. If that involves travel and compromise, you are the grown up.
3) Until children are verbal, they will not remember anything about the holidays. Babies do not care about specific holidays; they react to love every calendar day.
4) Your kids probably want their parents back together. They certainly hate to see you fight. You need to give your kids permission to love your spouse and your spouse’s family. If they know you do not want them to visit mom or dad, they will hide their happiness about seeing Aunt Kate to please you. Hiding happiness kills the soul. Help your kids enjoy the entire holiday.
5) When your kids grow up, they will not remember how may turkey legs they ate at either home, but they will vividly remember every altercation they witness.
6) Holidays are not subject to a mathematical formula. If your family is local and your spouse’s family are remote, sharing may mean your spouse gets more time.
7) Ask yourself, “What do the kids want?”.
8) Ask yourself, “What will make the kids happiest?”.
9) Think about the long game. Making concessions may earn you valuable points that will make co-parenting easier.
10) Will your kids benefit more from you having the exact time you want even if you need to go to court to get it? Will your kids benefit more from compromising and saving money for college rather then giving it to lawyers?
11) What happens if you and your spouse bicker about all of the holidays? Answer: your kids learn to hate the very holidays that are perhaps your best childhood memories.
12) When your kids are grown, do you want to attend their weddings, graduations and special life events? If you fight over your kids all of the time, your kids may need to make a choice as to which parent attends important events in their lives. That choice might not be you.
13) If your spouse has a great holiday planned, and you have been too busy with work or life to plan something, let the kids have some fun. A week at Disney World trumps a week in front of the T.V. watching reruns.
14) Do not put your kids in the middle of your disagreements with your spouse. Hold them above the fray.
15) Your lawyer is not your family advisor. Holiday time sharing should not digress to a litigation tactic. Sharing parenting time is about balance and mutual respect. Remember you are not doing this for your spouse. You’re doing it for the kids.