Some holidays are for the larger family. Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day. Some holidays are just for children. Halloween, Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter. Regardless, all holidays have to be planned for by coParents well ahead of time so that the children have the experiences that they need with both parents and with their larger family and friends.
If a family is in the transition period of establishing two households, and either have not filed for divorce, or have just started filing, and if the parents can talk and socialize easily, consider spending that first holiday together as a family. This will provide continuity and stability for the children since holidays have been enjoyed by the whole family, and holidays provide milestones in children’s development.
If the parents are not able to socialize and talk easily, and if the children are of ages where they can vocalize what they would like, ask them their preferences. Perhaps they will come up with a schedule that works for them and for their parents. During the initial separation period, children have to get used to a different routine, different environments, a different system of engagement with their parents, and a lot of awkwardness in terms of relating to their parents. If parents can keep the family together for holidays while working out a visitation schedule as part of their settlement terms, this may be advantageous to keeping the children feeling connected and stable while getting used to the divorce.
But what if one parent has a hard time showing up on time, or at all? Organize the holiday so that that parent is secondary to the plans and minimize the disappointment to the children. Don’t focus on the late parent; treat the lateness casually. The whole point is to make the children’s holiday experience more important than the parent with a time issue. Give the parent with the time issue the itinerary, and encourage them to join you when they are able. This has nothing to do with fairness. This has everything to do with focusing on the happiness of the children in any way possible.
What if parents cannot be together without hostility coming through their communication? Perhaps this is why the divorce is taking place. If that is the case, and if the children are of ages to make choices that work for them, let them. Let the children feel like they have a voice and some control over their lives at a time when volatility reigns. Children may come up with a solution that the parents haven’t thought of. Children are perceptive and creative, and quite often know what would make them feel good. Their idea may be a solution for their parents’ dilemma. Especially for the holidays that are focused on children, let the children create the balance that they would like to see.
“But we always go to their paternal grandparents on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day we are at my parents’ house.” Maybe this schedule can stay the same if the extended family is open to hosting you and your soon-to-be ex. But what if staying with the same schedule isn’t comfortable for the grandparents and extended family? The children can feel the tension, even if you think it’s being hidden.
If the children are so small that they aren’t going to notice a difference, you’re lucky. Make the decisions that support the parents. Staying child-focused is the priority. Don’t worry about anyone else’s opinions of what you should do. Do what’s best for your immediate family, at least for the first holiday after separation.