Two Homes for the Holidays

November 10, 2016

When you’re going through a separation or divorce, it can seem like everywhere you turn, there’s a reminder that you and your family are experiencing a major life transition. Holidays and special occasions can be a particularly charged example of how (nearly) everything changes post-divorce.

The December holiday season is challenging at the best of times: your finances, health and personal relationships are all put to the test. When it’s your first Christmas on your own, the demands can be (or at least seem) that much higher. And even when it’s not, the holidays can still be uniquely difficult for divorced parents.

But it doesn’t have to be that way – there are ways you can reduce the stress and strain of the holidays, and create a positive experience and memory for you and your kids.

Here, we offer our top 4 tips for parents navigating “two homes for the holidays” – whether for the first time, or again this year:

1.     Be specific.

Agree to a detailed parenting schedule, and do so well in advance of December.

This creates certainty and reduces anxiety for everyone, and allows each ex-spouse to make plans for their parenting time. When the time comes, if you and your spouse are both agreeable to deviating from the set schedule, great. If you’re not, you have a clear plan that both of you can follow.

And remember, once you’ve settled on a schedule, respect the other parent’s time with your children: don’t buy tickets to a show or plan a family gathering during your ex’s parenting time, and expect him or her to agree to let the kids attend – particularly if you wouldn’t extend the same courtesy.

2.     Be reasonable.

Keep your expectations for yourself and others reasonable.

As hard as this may sound, try not to get hung up on The Day. Christmas is not about December 25th, it’s about being with your family (assuming that’s part of your value system, of course!).

Ideally, particularly when your children are young, it’s best to avoid parenting changeovers on Christmas Day. Little ones tend to rise early and crash hard, and expecting them to get through two separate present-opening sessions on the same day with equal energy and excitement is not only unfair, it’s just plain silly. And it will also leave you disappointed when you don’t get the “WOW, THANKS!” response you were hoping for.

If you and your spouse can agree, one approach that works well is to create a schedule where the children are with one parent on Christmas Eve and Day and with the other on New Years’ Eve and Day, with the Christmas/New Years’ parent alternating each year.

Finally, it’s not just your kids who deserve a stress-free holiday. If this is your first time on your own, don’t put pressure on yourself to host your entire extended family for dinner or cook the perfect meal. If that sounds impossible, remember that you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of everyone else.

3.     Be flexible.

You may have to compromise and get creative.

For example, it may not be possible to follow all of the past traditions you have come to associate with the holidays – if that’s the case, seize the opportunity to create new traditions and engage your kids in the process. The same holds for gift-giving – with two households comes two sets of gifts. If you’re able to work with your ex, decide between you which of you will give what to your children, avoiding duplicate presents (unless that makes sense in the circumstances) and over-gifting.

In short, as clichéd as it sounds: don’t sweat the small stuff.

4.     Be the grown up.

It’s important to experience your emotions, but don’t impose them on your kids.

As sad as you may feel about being apart from your children at Christmas (or on any special day for that matter), you need to model healthy emotional coping for them. You can let them know you’ll miss them and that you’ll be thinking of them, but you also need to emphasize how both you and they will have a good time while you’re apart. As we explained in last month’s post, your sadness and loss are not your child’s burden to bear.

On a related note, if you’re in a new relationship (particularly with someone who has their own children), be cautious about bringing both families together for the first time at Christmas. Given the meaning and significance that many of us place on the holidays, it may be asking too much of everyone to manage all of the above challenges and adjust to a whole new family dynamic at the same time.

From our family to yours, Connect Family Law wishes you a happy, healthy holiday season!