Four Tips When it is Two Homes for the Holidays
When custody is shared between two households, the holidays can be a challenge. As a time traditionally spent with family, it can be difficult when the children can only be one place at a time. Over the decades that we’ve worked in family law in Northern Virginia, we’ve learned that this can turn joy into stress for the parents and the children. In our latest podcast, we discuss the issue, and we identify four ways to help minimize difficulties.
1. Don’t wait to sort out holiday plans
Holidays are full of family traditions, special activities, and visits from or to loved ones. Maybe one parent feels more strongly about religious rituals that fall during the other parent’s normal custodial time. Or maybe a parent’s extended family is gathering, and the children want to see their cousins and grandparents. While a good custodial agreement may set out the specifics of shared custody, look for room to meet in the middle – perhaps exchanging special activity times, like a trip to temple with Dad during Mom’s weekend, and then Mom gets the children to have dinner with the out-of-town family during Dad’s time. These sorts of arrangements should be sought, agreed to, and confirmed in writing well in advance of the scheduled event.
2. Focus on building happy memories
The holidays can be particularly tough for parents following a divorce or separation when part of the time is spent without the children. It’s important to remember that the children are not responsible for the adult’s happiness, so parents should try to keep difficult feelings to themselves. Children need to see that parents are excited for them to have a good time, even if this means expressing enthusiasm that they don’t feel for the children spending quality time with the other parent. Rather than sharing adult feelings of loneliness with the children, focus on them, and encourage them to share their happy experiences, even if those occur with the other parent.
3. Traditions old and new
All families build traditions around the holidays, and it can be hard to let some of them go. If parents have a civil relationship with one another, they can consider planning something together like going to see the Nutcracker, or dinner after the school Christmas performance. These activities can show the children that their parents can come together for special moments in their lives. If this simply isn’t possible, then parents should consider creating new traditions. With older children, it could even be fun to engage them in the process of developing the new tradition. With younger children, little activities like baking cookies or an annual viewing of a particular movie can create a sense of continuity and celebration.
4. Working with a reluctant child
Sometimes, scheduling isn’t the problem If one or more of the children doesn’t want to go to the other parent’s house, it is sure to cause some strife. Parents should try talking to the child and possibly the other parent to see if there are accommodations that might work like a few brief visits instead of one longer one, or overnight at the primary parent’s house with an early morning return to the other parent. Parents should encourage the child to go and see if there are ways to make the time with the other parent easier or more appealing for the child. Lessen the uncertainty by being very clear with the child what the time will look like and pointing out the fun aspects of the visit. If parents aren’t in a place where they can work together, the parent can help the reluctant child with coping mechanisms while still encouraging the visit. Obviously if the child is doing or saying things that cause genuine concern for the child’s safety, speak to a qualified mental health or legal professional about options.
At Reese Law, we understand that divorce or separation can make the holidays feel like a time of stress instead of celebration. We work with our clients on custody agreements and other techniques to minimize the negative and allow parents to focus on fostering a lovely, memorable time for their children and themselves. If your holidays are being hijacked by parental tension, or you have other child custody issues, contact us to schedule a consultation.