Avoid the common pitfalls and avoid conflict with your parenting partner by establishing a clear and detailed holiday schedule.

Holidays are often times of stress and conflict for parenting partners, especially in the aftermath of a divorce or separation. One of the biggest challenges is accepting that family traditions will need to change as a result of the break-up. This reality can be difficult for some parents because of the strong emotional ties involved with tradition, especially if the children are young. The most common pitfalls I see in my practice are sharing holidays, splitting holidays and giving a parent a particular holiday every year.

Sharing a holiday is common for cooperative parents, often with young children. These parents can spend time together (without conflict) and believe the children will benefit from spending time with their parents as a family unit. The critical factor for success is the ability to spend time together without conflict. Children of all ages are amazing receptors of feelings and easily perceive negative undertones and stress. When parents try to “put on a happy face” for the sake of the children it often backfires because the happiness is forced and the children sense it.

Splitting holidays means each parent takes half of the holiday. This agreement often results when one or both parents are unable to accept the idea of not seeing their children on a particular holiday or the child’s birthday. Parents who agree to split holidays also tend to be less cooperative, less flexible and more conflicted. The result of this parent-focused (vs. child-focused) agreement is that the children’s needs are secondary to this “split the baby” mentality. Nobody really wins because time with the children is rushed and complicated by mid-day transfers and the children which often leads to conflict and ruined holidays.

Giving a parent a particular holiday every year is an agreement most often driven by strong family traditions, conflicting religious beliefs, or a spouse who simply cannot accept the reality of separate holidays.

For the parents who successfully share holidays, split holidays or give one parent a particular holiday every year, the agreement it is often short-lived either because conflict between the parents emerges or new partners/spouses enter the scene; or most commonly, both – with new partners being the cause of the conflict between parents.

When conflict over holidays occurs you need to have a back-up plan in the form of a detailed holiday schedule.

Written by: Amber M. Serwat, MA

Amber is a divorce and parenting specialist in private practice in Burnsville, MN. She is also a divorced parent and step-parent of three children, ages 16-12.

amber@amsmediationplus.com | 952.252.1492


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