If you’ve just gone through a divorce or are spending your first holiday season separated from your partner, you may feel anxious or uncertain about the transition, particularly with regard to holiday traditions and ensuring a positive experience for your child. The following list offers simple suggestions for keeping the peace this holiday season, as well as encouragement for parents determined to keep the holiday spirit alive for their children during this potentially difficult time.
#5 Don’t try to outdo one another
Divorce is expensive, and many times ex-spouses or partners find it difficult to adjust from a dual- to single-income household. Trying to impress your child with expensive gifts will only depress you in the end when the bank statement arrives. What’s more, your child is probably looking for love and reassurance, not the latest gadget. If possible, agree on a maximum dollar amount for gifts with your ex ahead of time and stick to the budget.
#4 Determine a Santa policy
If you celebrate Christmas and your children are young, discuss with your ex-spouse or partner the importance of maintaining the Santa fantasy for your child throughout the holiday season. Nothing can damper the mood of the first post-divorce Christmas more than a child inadvertently learning the truth about Santa. Ensure that your ex’s friends and significant others understand the importance of this tradition as well.
#3 Be respectful of custody times
In many custody arrangements, parties will stipulate certain pick-up and drop-off times on important celebration days. Maybe you spend half of Hanukkah with your children, and your ex has custody during the other four nights. No matter which days or celebration times you get this year, remember how important it is for your child to spend this holiday with both parents, and be mindful of pre-determined exchange times. Being excessively late can set an unpleasant precedent for future holidays and events, as well as undermine the terms of your custody order or agreement.
#2 Discuss travel plans
Your custody order or agreement may address out-of-jurisdiction travel, or you may be navigating custody with your co-parent without a formal agreement in place. Either way, traveling with children out of the state or country can quickly become a huge issue if the other parent did not know about or consent to the trip.
Believe it or not, leaving the jurisdiction with your child without the consent of the other parent could amount to parental kidnapping, as well as a host of other legal problems, under state and federal law. If you are concerned about communication regarding travel plans, type up a simple consent form for both parents to sign, and get it notarized, if possible. This is especially wise for anyone planning a trip out of the country.
#1 Keep it simple
Especially if this is your first holiday season after divorce or separation, your child may be feeling vulnerable or emotional about changes in the family dynamic. The best bet, in most scenarios, is to create a calm and inviting environment for your child, which may mean reducing your holiday social obligations. One-on-one time is likely what your child is craving most, and simple activities like cooking together or wrapping gifts may be just what your child needs to feel comfortable this holiday season.
And, as always, avoid the temptation to bad mouth or belittle the other parent in the presence of the child. This is known as parental alienation and is frequently used as fodder for modifications to custody and visitation arrangements, which creates additional and unnecessary stress for the child.