Holidays in the Two-Home Family
Three tips for holiday success with your co-parent By Felicia Soleil, Attorney/Mediator
Whether you are a newly separated or divorced parent or have been navigating two-household holidays for a while, it’s that time of year again to think about how best to help your kids, and you, enjoy this festive time of year as you learn to establish new traditions.
Here are three tips for seeing yourself sanely through to the new year:
1. Plan the schedule as far in advance as possible with the other parent. If you already have a parenting plan, you probably have a guideline for who gets the kids for which holiday. However, have you designated exchange times? Many parenting plans are vague and only assign the actual holiday, leaving exchanges up for interpretation (and potential conflict).
For example, does “Mom gets Thanksgiving” mean from 9am to 7pm on Thanksgiving Day, or does it mean from Wednesday night until the following Friday morning? Does “Dad gets Christmas Eve” mean a return time of 10pm on December 24 or does it extend until 9am Christmas morning? Better to get those exchange times ironed out now to alleviate last-minute chaos and potential upset when emotions may already be running high.
2. Build in time for the kids to relax with each of you. Too often, I see parents emphasizing how to maximize their own holiday time with the children by trying to fit in too many activities (Zoolights! Nutcracker! Holiday movies! Gingerbread houses at Grandma’s!) because they feel they have to experience all these things with their kids apart from the other parent in limited time. This can lead to exhausted kids who may end up spending their holiday sick, or just run down and grumpy, especially if all the activity occurred during one parent’s time and the other parent has to deal with the after-effects (or with the expectation that they now have to also compete with the activity level).
Try to coordinate with your co-parent ahead of time regarding what activities you’d each like to enjoy with the kids, and spread joy for them among both of you. Then incorporate some “downtime” for all of you. (Yes, sometimes you have to actually schedule downtime.)
3. Set a budget and establish gift lists with your co-parent. This one can’t be stressed enough. Particularly for couples who are newly separated, I often see each parent trying to overcompensate for disrupting their prior family holiday traditions by overbuying, overspending, overdecorating, over-everything!
You also don’t want to be competing with the other parent as to who will give a major gift to a child that the child requested. One solution for major gifts is to say it is from both Mom and Dad. Maybe have one major gift for each child at each household that you can say is from both of you, thereby avoiding any appearance of favoritism. With a little planning, communication and understanding, you and your co-parent can successfully navigate these next couple of months smoothly if you let yourselves acknowledge that this can be a time for establishing new traditions while teaching your children that you are all still “family,” regardless of whether they spend their holidays in one home or two.
Felicia Soleil is a divorce mediator and family law attorney located in Gig Harbor. She helps her clients in achieving resolutions that foster both a compassionate ending to their union and a healthy new beginning so they can focus on moving on, rather than simply moving out. Felicia can be reached at 253.853.6940. All consultations are strictly confidential and currently conducted by appointment via Zoom videoconference or phone.