Make Sure the Holidays Stay Happy
It’s never too soon to start thinking about the upcoming holidays – and I don’t just mean all the gift-shopping, meal-planning and making arrangements to be with family.
For parents who are divorced or separated (especially if the split is recent), the upcoming holiday season can be rife with difficulties and anguish over how the kids are going to spend their time, and with whom.
If you have a separation agreement, or if you have been involved in the Ontario Family Court system and a court order has been issued, then there will likely be a formal custody and access schedule in place that sets out in precise terms when the children are to be with each parent. Ideally, the agreement or order will go into considerable detail to best ensure that confusion and misunderstandings are minimized. Christmas holidays, for example, may be evenly split between the parents (with precise pick-up and drop-off times specified or negotiated) or may be set up to alternate between parents year to year.
If there is no schedule in place that specifically addresses the schedule for the holidays, then – whenever possible – it is important for you as parents to come to a negotiated agreement on how it will play out. This is the best course for both you as parents, and especially for your children. And even if an agreement cannot be reached immediately, parents should avoid rushing to court to settle their differences. Even disputes that seem irreconcilable might potentially be resolved through mediation, arbitration, or the collaborative family law process.
What’s important to remember is that even minor conflict and stress between parents can ruin a child’s holidays, and can ruin what should be lifelong happy memories.
So with that thought in mind (and assuming that there is some flexibility in the schedule set out by the separation agreement or court order), here are some tips for making the upcoming holidays go as smoothly as possible:
• Try to come up with a joint calendar. Incorporate both the agreed or court-mandated portions, and settle any gray areas well in advance. Provide each other with a detailed itinerary of events, together with the details of any related travel plans if possible.
• Stick to the agreed or court-mandated schedule. Nothing adds to the stress of the holidays, and nothing can disappoint a child’s eager expectations, like last-minute or unannounced changes to a long-established plan.
• If changes to the schedule are permitted and unavoidable, then give the other parent and the child as much notice as possible. This will hopefully optimize co-operation, avoid unwanted surprises, and minimize disappointment and ill-will.
Part of this scheduling exercise involves good communication and a co-operative approach. To that end, here are some additional points:
• In making up the schedule, don’t try to monopolize your child’s time. Be sensitive to the wishes and traditions of the other parent and those of his or her extended family.
• Especially for older children, try to give them input and then be mutually flexible in accommodating their wishes if possible. (This presumes those wishes neither circumscribe the terms of the separation agreement or court order nor operate to the detriment of either parent or the child).
• When children are with one parent for an extended stretch during the holidays, make arrangements to allow them to contact the other parent, either by phone or Skype. This will ensure that children stay connected during special holiday times, even when they are away.
• Be reasonable, and be flexible. Both of you as parents should strive to communicate and co-operate whenever possible.
Above all, focus on what’s best for your child: The goal is to foster happy, lifelong memories of the holidays, even if you and the child’s other parent are no longer together.