The holidays are upon us. I know when parents are separated or divorced; the holidays can be extra stressful trying to fit in the children’s plans and events with both parents. When parents don’t get along, things can escalate to where the time that should be joyful is miserable in both homes. But, it can be a magical time if parents are effectively co-parenting during the holidays.
Co-parenting basically boils down to “cooperative parenting” or “parenting together”. It is a firmly held belief with professionals that children fare better when parents can minimize any trauma during and after their divorce and can communicate, cooperate, and compromise with consistency.
When I did custody evaluations for the family courts, I always asked the children to tell me what they’d wish for if they had three wishes that would come true. The number one wish for nearly 100% of the children I spoke to was “for mom and dad not to fight anymore”. This is especially true during holidays and other special events.
With the new year coming up, it’s healthy to look back over the past and think about what you did that worked for you and what you might have done differently. I know some of you have had a more difficult time dealing with the ex and have had some bad experiences. I understand that and I’m not saying it will be easy. But, I’ve found that when one parent (even when not deserved) offers respect and courtesy, the other parent tends to mellow some. Always? No. Sometimes, one party is just not able to function and co-parent. But, the more even one parent tries, the less stressful it will be for them, and their children.
Before we go any further, I want to make sure you know I am not an attorney and am not offering legal advice – just some observations from my twenty years within the family courts. You should always follow your custody orders. You don’t want to get in trouble by violating what the court put in place. But, in most cases, your orders may say that as long as you both agree, you may make exceptions to the plan. Make sure you understand what yours say. If you’re unclear, contact your attorney for clarification. In some circumstances, there may be issues on one or sometimes both sides that prevent changing the plan at all for the safety of the children or a parent. So, it’s important that you understand your orders before you do anything. This article is meant for those that have the flexibility to make adjustments.
When you are able to modify access/visitation by mutual agreement, then it’s okay to give Mom extra days. It’s okay to split Christmas day. It’s okay to change the dates so Dad can have the children during his time with his family. As long as you’re not doing anything special, why not agree the other parent can have the children, so they can enjoy the events and holidays with each of you? It’s easy to say, “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.” And, it’s sometimes hard to say, “I may be angry with my ex, but I can compromise.” Which do you think is better for your children?
Isn’t it more important for your children to look back and remember the special times they’ve had with both parents than to remember all the arguing, fighting, and missed events just because their parents could never agree on anything? We’re all human. We all make mistakes. If you’ve been caught in the vicious cycle of arguing with your child’s other parent, now is a great time to try to make things better for all of you.
Why drag out the drama or deprive your child of fun and special memories? Try to work out something amicable as quickly as possible to ensure your child has the best of both of you and to help your children make wonderful conflict-free holiday memories.
I’ve actually had clients who were able to spend holidays together in a peaceful and fun manner. Those were the exceptions of course, but think how awesome those memories will be for their children. No animosity – just a wonderful holiday for everyone. While I know that’s a dream for some, and isn’t possible for the majority, it is possible to come up with a plan that will work for all of you.
If you’ve found this article helpful, please consider following this blog at the bottom of this page. I also have an email list for those who want to hear about new releases or special events. Sign up here. You may unsubscribe at any time.
Don’t forget…you can find all kinds of helpful advice for family court conflict in my book, Navigating Family Court. (Print and Audio versions will be available in 2020. I’ll send out availability dates to my email list as soon as possible.)
No matter what you celebrate, I hope you each have a very happy and conflict-free holiday!
*This article first appeared in Mom’s Favorite Reads Magazine: December 2018 Issue, Page 22 (magazine page 22, in window 24)