It’s late November and already I’m beginning to feel my jaw tightening and teeth grinding when I start to think about how my ex and I are divvying up the holiday time this year. Not just Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years – but right on through to President’s Day, Winter Break and Spring Break, rolling right on through to Memorial Day. It always involves fraught conversations like, “Well, remember that you got him for 4.5 days in a row over Christmas break last year, so that means that….” I know I’m not alone in this. Holidays are hard for every family. Negotiating visits with extended family members is difficult, but when divorce is part of the equation, the challenge can seem monumental.
Today, as a Divorce and Family Mediator, I help couples work out the logistics of their parenting plans as they struggle to transition from married life to life as single parents. It’s pretty typical that, when we get to the part about vacations and holidays, couples will say to me something like, “Oh, that’s not a problem, we’ll just alternate.” Or, “We’ll just work out the time as we go along.” I look at them and say, “Umm. Let’s talk about that. Why don’t you describe exactly how that will work. Take Thanksgiving, for starters. Little Sarah gets out of school at 2:45 pm on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and she goes…..where??” The couple stares at me, then they stare at each other, there’s a long silence…then the inevitable argument ensues. It happens every time.
There’s nothing that says “wet blanket” like a rigid parenting schedule, right? Especially when it means dissecting holidays and vacations right down to the micro level. But, trust me, and I know this from personal experience, better to have every moment plotted out on paper so as to leave nothing open for interpretation, then to think you’re just going “wing it” or rely on your ex’s good nature. I don’t want to go so far as to say that you can kiss your visions of sugar plums and all of that goodbye….but, why invite needless argument and tension?
Get creative when thinking through your holiday and vacation schedules. For example, one couple I know alternate the years at whose home the kids wake up on Christmas morning. It works something like this. In even years, the kids will go over to their mom’s home at 2:00 pm on Christmas Eve, then will wake up on Christmas morning at her house. They will stay with her until 1:00 pm, and then will go over to their dad’s home to open presents and will remain at his home until the following afternoon. The remaining Christmas break is thereafter split between the couple. It’s always a bit of a sacrifice for the parents, especially the one who doesn’t get to see their kids’ faces on Christmas morning, but the kids love it! Two Christmas celebrations! What could be better??!! And both parents, one way or another, get to spend time with the kids on Christmas Day.
It’s never easy negotiating holidays when you’re divorcing, or even after you’re divorced. Someone always has to give up something, it seems. If you have a good solid parenting plan in place, then I applaud you! But if you don’t, then contact a mediator. Whether you’re contemplating a separation or divorce now, or are already divorced and find that holiday and vacation time brings on more stress than you’d like, a mediator can help you work out a solid parenting plan that can help alleviate most of the ambiguity and, therefore, ensuing argument between you and your spouse or ex.
As a extra special holiday bonus for those of you who may be dealing with seasonal stress or wrestling with parenting plans – MediationLine is running a special promotion. Give us a call and sign up for Online Mediation any time between now and the end of the year, and you’ll pay less than half our regular rate! Check here for more details.
The bottom line is, as counter-intuitive as it may seem to have a detailed holiday and vacation plan in place, it’s usually best for everyone involved, especially the children, when there’s a schedule that everyone can count on. Kids love stability and parenting plans are really there for them.