One of the most difficult times of the year for divorced or divorcing families is the holiday season. The holidays are about spending time with loved ones and carrying on family traditions of bonding and celebration. However, for many folks who are divorced or who are going through a rough divorce, it can be very difficult to even think about celebrating. And, it can be even more challenging when children are involved, as you have to consider who they will be spending their time with during these holidays.
With fall quickly approaching and Thanksgiving on its way, the holidays will be here before we know it. Though September may seem much too early to be thinking about the holidays, navigating this time of year for divorced families takes extra consideration and planning ahead.
Based on what I’ve seen as a judge in Chicago’s family court system, knowing what my clients have been asking with regard to planning for holidays and vacations, and listening to the children that I represent as a guardian ad litem and child’s representative, below are some tips that I hope will be helpful.
Hopefully, you have a positive enough relationship with your ex that the two of you will be able to work together to ensure a successful holiday season for your kids. If both parents have the best interests of the children at heart, you should be able to put aside your differences for a couple of hours and figure out the best way to navigate the coming season. If you still have a very contentious relationship with your ex, meeting in person may not be the best idea, but working out a schedule over email, via a text or through a shared calendar online should work just as well, presuming both parties adhere to the agreement. Most importantly, don’t wait until the last minute, which can lead to disappointment and frustration for all. Find a way to communicate with one another.
Talk to the School and the Family
Make sure that you have all of the information you need before you start to make a schedule. Double check with the school to known when vacations begin and when the children need to be back in class. Last-minute date switching or delays can be very stressful for all involved, especially if this is the first holiday season that your family will be spending apart. Talk to the extended family on both sides and whomever else your family normally spends the holidays with. Figure out the easiest way for your kids to be able to visit with both sides of their family, as it is important that they maintain relationships with their loved ones. If your children are old enough, it is also important that you ask them about their holiday preferences. If they are old enough to have input in the discussion, you should honor their wishes as best you can.
Consider the Past
If this is not your family’s first divorced holiday season, then it’s important to think about what you did in the past. If your ex had the kids for Thanksgiving last year, perhaps it is your turn this year as it is good for the kids to stay in touch with both sides of the extended family. However, if what you did in previous years seemed to work really well then it might be better to stick to it. There is no sense in fixing a schedule that makes everyone happy!
Split Up the Time
One of the most common ways for divorced families to spend the holidays is to divide the time between both parents. For example, most kids have two weeks off from school during December. One parent could take the kids for the first week and Christmas, and the other could have the kids stay with them for the second week and New Year’s. Another option is to continue with the normal visitation schedule that you have worked out, but specifically split up Christmas. One of you could have the kids for Christmas Eve and half of Christmas Day, and your ex could take them for the rest of Christmas Day and the following full day. This way, everyone’s special family traditions can be honored.
I hope that these tips get you thinking about your plan for this holiday season. Remember, it is always better to prepare for this situation beforehand, as it can be very stressful and emotionally draining to leave holiday details and visitation to the last minute!