Sharing time with your children during the holidays is easier said than done. If you were to visit the family services department (now referred to as the probation department) of any probate court in Massachusetts during this wondrous holiday season, you would see distressed moms and dads, either armed with lawyers or not, waiting to meet with the court mediator. The issue of dispute predictably would be the implementation of a parenting plan for the holidays.
Although there are many holidays in the month of December, in this particular article I am focusing on Christmas. If you are already divorced, and your divorce agreement provides for a schedule and some methodology for sharing this holiday, you may be fine. That parenting plan, as we term it, is essential for surviving the stress and demands of the season. If, however, your divorce agreement does not have a parenting plan that specifically describes where the children will be for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, of if you are currently going through a divorce and have no parenting plan in place, you may be one of those distressed moms or dads in the courthouse trying to battle it out.
So what, you ask, is the usual scenario for the sharing of Christmas? The short answer is that there isn’t one. Each divorcing couple is different and therefore, the parenting plans will vary. I always begin by asking my client if there are any family traditions which the children have become accustomed to while celebrating the holiday. For instance, some of my clients have large families that gather on Christmas Eve, and this part of the holiday may be more important to them than Christmas Day. The children may be used to seeing their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins from one side of the family on Christmas Day. If this is the case, I try to encourage that the traditions remain in place for the benefit of the children. As in any family, traditions will morph and change over the years, but particularly in the first few years after divorce, it is important to try to preserve some predictability for the children.
If neither party is predisposed to eve or day, then I typically recommend that the parties take turns with one taking Christmas Eve until sometime Christmas morning, and the other taking Christmas Day, and then swapping the next year. This may sound reasonable, but practically it can become quite a battle sometimes. Emotions run high when the question becomes which parent should have the pleasure of having the children on Christmas morning.
I have often maintained that negotiating some of the issues are not as complicated as brain surgery, but emotions make the matter extremely complicated. It is important for both sides to put down their swords, and try to focus on what is in the best interest of the children. Under usual circumstances, children benefit from spending time with both parents. There is no magic to the sharing or alternating of the holidays, but the best interest of the children should be the focus in navigating such a stressful time.
We wish all of you happy holidays as well as a happy, healthy new year.