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Managing Holidays and Celebrations as a Divorced Parent

Holidays and special occasions are not warm and fuzzy times for many divorced or divorcing parents. While the role of husband or wife ends when a marriage dissolves, the role of mom or dad should never go away. As a result, deciding where children will spend holidays, negotiating pick-up and drop-off times and cooperating with an ex-spouse can be overwhelming for many of the nearly 4 million divorced parents in the United States.

At some point, you may find yourself calling a lawyer over a dispute about a vacation, holiday visitation or even gift-giving, but with careful planning and a realistic outlook, you may be able to reduce the stress of holidays and help your children thrive.

A Comprehensive Parenting Plan Is a Good Start

Holiday planning begins when you, your spouse and your attorneys create a holiday schedule in a parenting plan as part of your divorce. Parenting plans are better known for establishing custody and visitation, but most also include schedules for holidays, birthdays and other celebrations. Parents should work together to define major holidays and alternate or share them. Often, parenting plans provide for the children to remain with the parent who has the child for the weekend on civil holidays that are marked on Mondays.

Especially during the first year after a divorce, you may want to consider prior family traditions and religious beliefs when you are creating holiday and celebration schedules. In particular, you may want to make sure your children can continue celebrating particular holidays with extended family if this was the practice before the divorce. As your children grow and your lives change, you may need to modify your parenting plan.

Making the Holidays Go Smoothly

Once your parenting plan is written, your divorce is final and you and your spouse are moving on with your lives, you still have work to do when holidays roll around.

  • Review your parenting plan before a holiday to determine your rights and obligations.
  • Schedule a deadline, such as October 15, to confirm holiday plans and dates between you and your ex-spouse.
  • You can save weeks of anger by coordinating pick-up and drop-off plans in advance.
  • Have a brief conversation to ensure that you do not duplicate presents or plan back-to-back holiday meals for your children.
  • You may also want to make holiday plans with your extended family in advance.

It can be difficult to be flexible when plans change after you have painstakingly worked out the details of a holiday. But remember that this is about the children. Do not punish your children by refusing to allow them to see family members who are visiting from out of town if it is your regular time with the children. Encouraging relationships with your children's extended family is often in their best interest.

Dealing With Holiday Emotions

Even when you carry out a holiday plan that gives your children a fulfilling and meaningful celebration, you may still have feelings of sadness, stress and anxiety. It's normal to feel sad if you are not celebrating a holiday or milestone with your children. Focus on the time that you do spend with your children rather than the times they are away. Remember that dates of holidays are often more important to adults than children, who will find a holiday exciting even if it is celebrated on a different day. With time, you can establish new traditions that will stay with your children for a lifetime.

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