The holiday season is stressful for everyone. It comes with holiday parties, gifts to buy, wrap, and give, and of course, awkward moments with extended family. When a family breaks down and parents go their separate ways, it can add even more stress for their children as they try to navigate two households and two sets of expectations. Here’s how you can help your children handle the holidays after divorce.
This blog post will provide tips to newly divorced and separated parents for how to help their children through the stress of the holidays. It will discuss holiday parenting time schedules and gift giving best practices to help your children handle the holidays after divorce.
Holiday Parenting Time Requires a Balance of Flexibility and Boundaries
If your divorce or custody case is over, your parenting time is controlled by a parenting schedule that sets out where the children will stay on a day-to-day basis. That schedule often includes specific rules about holiday parenting time. If you and your fellow parent live relatively close together and have at least a passing relationship, this schedule likely divides the holiday break between the two of you and awards each parent specific days, and even hours, on the holidays themselves. If your family follows a different religion or places priorities on other days, you and your family law attorney may have negotiated to add those days into the parenting schedule as well.
In reality, even the best-laid parenting schedules don’t always fit with your holiday obligations or extended family’s expectations. If the children’s grandparents are used to seeing them every Christmas or cousins look forward to sharing Thanksgiving Dinner, there may be pressure to forget the schedule and do what will reduce your own stress.
You can help your children handle family expectations around the holidays by modeling a balance of flexibility and boundaries. If your former spouse’s big family dinner always happens on the Saturday before Christmas and your family gets together on Christmas Day, you may be able to negotiate and trade parenting time so that the children can attend both parties every year. But if your family is used to hopping from party to party on the holiday itself, it may be better for you to take on the responsibility of telling your family that this year your children will be celebrating with their other parent.
Don’t put it on your children to make the choice. While it makes sense to gauge whether they really want to go to their aunt’s big holiday dinner, you should never add to your children’s holiday stress by making them pick one parent over the other or favor one family member against the others. That’s an adult’s job, and it is up to you to make the final decision.
Giving Gifts to Your Former Spouse
Gift giving is another stressful part of the holidays for many children. When those children have recently endured a painful breakup or divorce, it can put a lot of pressure on them to try to figure out how they will be able to buy or pay for gifts for their parents during the holidays.
Certainly, if you have just wrapped up a divorce from your ex-spouse they aren’t likely to be at the top of your Nice list this year. You are probably happy to forget to give them a gift at all. But that person that you are still angry with is also your child’s parent. Try to set aside your animosity to help your son or daughter select, buy, and wrap gifts for your former spouse. It will help relieve the stress of the holidays and tell them that their relationship with their other parent is more important than your feelings. You might even include a small gift of your own, to help mend fences and improve your co-parenting relationship.
Who Gets to Give the Big Present on Christmas Morning?
Money can cause problems for anyone around the holidays. The added expenses of holiday trips to see family and the gifts themselves can put a strain on your budget and raise the balance on your credit cards. When one parent relies on the child support of the other just to make ends meet, the holidays can put those income differences on display and create a danger that children will be disappointed when one parent doesn’t have the ability to put the big ticket items under the tree.
Deciding which parent should be the one to give the tablet, gaming console, or other big gift can be complicated even when both parents have the funds to contribute to the gift. Deciding whose house will store it and who will get the credit can add stress to an already strained relationship between parents.
Rather than putting your children in the middle of your money disputes, consider labeling those big presents from “Santa” or even putting both parents’ names on the package. If you and your former spouse or partner are on good enough terms, you may want to arrange for the present to be opened at a special time with both of you there. That way you both get to see the joy, celebration, and — hopefully — thankfulness on your children’s faces and avoid the feeling that you’ve been shown up just because your former partner was the one who bought the gift.
Divorce and separation makes the holidays harder, there’s no doubt about that. But the way you handle things like gift giving, parenting time, and party planning will affect how much stress your children feel during the season. If you can put your children first, even when it means you have to swallow hurt feelings, it will help them have a happy holidays, and brighten your season too.
At Aviso Law, LLC, our divorce lawyers know how to keep the practical realities of life in mind when settling a divorce dispute. We know how to use Colorado law to maximize the allocation of parenting time so that you and your children can celebrate your most important holidays without stress over the parenting schedule. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.