10 Tips for Holiday Parenting
In family law, we use the word "parenting" or "parenting time" to describe the rights of parents and children to spend time together. Some families share equal parenting time after separation. Some families have a 'primary' parent who takes care of the children the majority of the time, and a parent who has scheduled parenting time.
Parenting time is really about children. The law says the only consideration is what is in the best interests of the child, considering all factors in their life.
Unfortunately, parenting time can be contentious around the holidays. Holidays, whether of personal or religious tradition, can be very important to parents as individuals. All parents usually want the same thing: to spend quality time with their kids on important days. These might include birthdays, summer break, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Diwali, New Year, Eid al-Fitr, Halloween, Christmas and many others.
It is important for children to learn the traditions and heritage of their parents and to spend quality time with their parents. It's also important that children are NOT exposed to their parents' conflict. Compromise and fairness is key.
At Kinetic Law, our lawyer Kimberley is part of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), an international organizaton focused on family justice. The AFCC has put out 10 Tips for Holiday Christmas Parenting Time for separated parents.
1. Have a very specific plan for the holidays so there is no opportunity for confusion or conflict
Agree on important dates well in advance. Parents may alternate or split holidays. When there is disagreement , consider the longer view of alternating holidays by even and odd years. Holidays are often a time of strong emotions. At some point, each parent is going to have to miss out on a holiday with the kids, and this may hurt. Hopefully, you can structure a plan for holidays that each parent can agree on. Predictability is key to managing these emotions.
Communicate with the other parenting about things like gifts and budget. It is always best for children to see their parents as united decision makers.
2. Try to continue traditions of the past for the children
Whether it's lighting the menorah candles, opening a gift on Christmas Eve, or spending Boxing Day at Great Aunt Olga's, try to follow those traditions even after separation. If the kids are used to spending Christmas Eve with one extended family, try to continue that tradition, if not every year then in alternate years. Parents should consider maintaining some of the family traditions especially the first year after the separation, and alternating the following year.
3. If you can continue some traditions together, make them clear, attending to details of who, what, where, when, and how
Some families are able to be together without conflict arising, but parents often have different expectations about the experience itself. Setting boundaries and expected timelines before the event can ease both parents into it with as much comfort as possible. If getting together will not work for you, be respectful in declining an invitation. The most important thing for the children is that they do not experience conflict between their parents. Parents can also consider family counseling and parenting coaching, even after separation.
4. Create new traditions that feel special to the children and family
This is an opportunity for the new family configuration to establish new traditions for the holidays including creation of a special holiday celebration or experience, even if it is not on the actual holiday. It is also an opportunity for the adult who does not have the children to establish new practices such as time with friends, volunteering, movie days, and travel.
5. Think long-term
What do you want your children to remember about holidays when they have their own children? For children, holidays are magical. It is often the little rituals and practices that are most memorable, such as baking a pie, playing a game, or lighting the fire. No one wants their children to remember parents fighting, yelling or missing out on special holidays.
6. Remember, children’s memories include all senses
What they saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched. To the extent possible, create a memory that involves each of these senses and describe it, such as "we always listen to this music, eat cranberry sauce, watch this movie, read this book, take this walk, and cut these branches." Do not allow conflict to enter into these memories. Think of all the things you remember best about your favourite holidays as a child.
7. Self-care is very important
Life for the adults has significantly changed. Find new ways to care for yourself, with and without the children. Whether it be exercise, friends, books, movies, clubs, martial arts, dance or activities that bring new energy and attention. You want to rejuvenate yourself and refocus on something to help you move forward in this new chapter in your life after separation.
8. Keep your expectations small and be flexible
Focus on one thing that matters most to you during the holidays, for example: some sense of connection to your family, having some time with extended family or close friends, creating a new tradition, or continuing a tradition. Your holiday time will not be the same, but you can decide to still make it great. Have one small goal that you will work toward creating or preserving. Holidays may be accompanied by unmet needs and dashed hopes. By thinking small, you can manage disappointment and decrease stress.
9. Though you, the parent, may feel disoriented and lost in the changed family, keep your focus on the children
Make the holidays about your children, which means helping them to feel good about spending holiday time with the other parent.
10. In ten years or twenty years, what do you want to see when you look back on these years of change?
From that long view, you can highlight the tone and experience of these transformed holidays. Remember, children who find holidays stressful because of the conflict between their parents have terrible memories as adults of these special times. It is in your hands to create fond, pleasant memories for your children. They can be traditional or not, but the message is that you and your family are important and that we find ways to celebrate and enjoy holidays.
Bonus Tip #11 from Kinetic Law - Plan Ahead
The best way to avoid conflict is to avoid surprises and last minute plans. Give yourself and the other parent time to consider options and to plan around school, work and extended family. Plan for Christmas holidays by October. Plan for summer holidays by April. If the other parent gives you a proposal you don't like, sleep on it. Take the time to consider all ways it does or does not work. Reply respectfully. Give time to negotiate. Don't leave it to the last minute.
If you really can't get agree? Seek professional help early. Mediators and Collaborative lawyers may need a couple weeks to book you in. Court dates are booked months in advance. Do not expect to get into court on the issue of Christmas holidays in December.
We wish all of you a safe and joyous holiday with your family. Remember to focus on the positive, on making happy memories for your children with both parents.
10 Tips for Holiday Christmas Parenting Time
These Tips were created by Dr. Robin Deutsch, PhD, ABPP, of Massachusetts for the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. We thank Dr. Deutsch for her great insight.
DISCLAIMER: This web site is for convenience and informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a comprehensive or detailed statement concerning the matters addressed, legal or otherwise. The information provided is not legal advice or any other kind of advice. You should seek appropriate, qualified professional advice before acting or omitting to act in your personal or legal matter. To get legal advice, you can contact us directly and make an appointment to meet with a lawyer. We cannot and do not provide advice on our website.