As a parent, it's natural to want to spend as much time as possible with your children during the holidays. Especially because that old saying is true -- they do grow up so fast.
As a divorce mediator, part of my job is to help divorcing parents create a workable holiday parenting plan that puts their kids best interests first. But there are also some common sense "dos and don'ts" to keep in mind to make sure your children remember the holidays for what they are -- a time of celebration -- rather than something they discuss in therapy 20 years from now.
- Put your children first and think about where they would be most comfortable. If they want to stay in "their house" and play with their new toys on Christmas morning instead of driving with you to see your family who lives four hours away per the holiday parenting plan, it's no reflection on their lack of desire to spend time with you. It's simply a kid being a kid.
- Behave like an adult because guess what? You're a grown-up and your children are counting on you to act like one.
- Consider spending the holidays together with your soon-to-be ex spouse. Life is going to change for your children soon enough so why not keep things together for their sake if you can? I'm not advocating for this if it's going to turn into a holiday disaster, but if you can abide by rule number two above, then this one might work for you. Make sure to tell your children that you are still a family and you are still their parents and love them very much even though you may not love each other the way moms and dads are supposed to.
- If you've not yet started the proceedings, choose a child-focused divorce method. This way, you can peacefully end your marriage instead of putting your kids in the middle of an ugly, litigated divorce.
- Shuttle your children from place to place in the interest of satisfying relatives or executing a holiday parenting plan. Now that there are two families to see and two houses to visit, make sure more of your day is spent enjoying the company of family and friends instead of in the car going from house A to house B to house C to...
- "Out-gift" each other. When it comes to Hanukkah or Christmas shopping, be sure to talk with your spouse beforehand and coordinate your purchases so that one of you doesn't buy them a pony while the other buys them socks. This is especially true for couples with an income disparity post-divorce.
- Be a time stickler. There are so many variables come holiday season (gift opening, traffic, family dynamics), so this is a time of year you may especially need to ease up a bit on time pressure. If your holiday parenting plan states the kids come to your house at 10am and they get there 10:30 a.m., take the high road and cut your ex-spouse a little slack as prying kids away from their new toys on Christmas morning or interrupting their dreidel game to go see Aunt Sue may not be an easy thing to do.
Keeping these somewhat obvious, yet critical rules of the road in mind during this and every holiday season will help make the holidays memorable (in a good way) for your kids.