Co-parenting holidays can be difficult to juggle following divorce or a custody battle. Federal holidays alone happen in the United States at least 12 times a year: a dozen times a year. Families gather, friends meet and greet, and children play through the street (on warmer holidays at least). For children, holidays are days of excitement and laughter and wonder and no school and fun.
For separated parents with children, however, trying to create a fun, happy holiday for the kids is no small task. We can follow four basic steps to achieve an enjoyable, limited-stress and easygoing holiday: Plan, Detail, Communicate, and Anticipate according to our friends at Felt Family Law & Mediation.
1) Plan Ahead
The first and most important step to smooth shared holidays is to plan ahead. There is nothing more stressful than having 100 things to do and less than an hour to get it all done. This also applies to planning a holiday. Instead of waiting to plan everything out the day before, start planning two weeks or more in advance.
Planning ahead reduces stress and helps us think clearly, avoid dumb mistakes, and feel better all around. Advance planning gives us more time to work out the details, more time to communicate with all parties involved, and more time to anticipate and address unexpected (or even expected) conflicts.
Just like trying to drive in a hurry, trying to plan a last-minute large event could end in a wreck. While we are not guaranteed to crash and burn, the drive will be much more comfortable when we allow enough time to reach the destination — to plan out all the details.
2) Working out the Details
Working out the details of a holiday plan is important — especially plans regarding parent time. Include details of the plan for all the specifics of your custody and parent time. Consider who will be visiting during the holiday period. Keep guests in mind as you plan out food, activities, and a rough schedule of events. Tailor activities to fit the age groups of guests. Keep food and activities within reason of financial plans.
As you work out the details, your holiday will become more solid and more enjoyable to anyone participating. Additionally, planning the details creates stability over the holidays, a feeling that will not go unnoticed by the children. A well thought out holiday will limit stress and contention and make for an enjoyable memory on all sides.
3) Communicate the Details
Once the details are worked out, it’s time to run them by your ex. Communicating the details should be simple and straightforward, but this key step is oftentimes overlooked. Lack of communication constantly leads to unnecessary complications and sometimes legal emergencies, so it is important to take communication into consideration when planning for the holidays.
Your ex-spouse should always be one of the first persons you communicate details to. Leaving your ex in the dark about plans will only increase their anxiety and desire to take control, which is where the most problems occur. A willingness to communicate and plan with your ex will increase their willingness to cooperate with you.
Just as important, make sure to communicate the details to anyone else who may be involved in your holiday plans. Plans will inevitably run smoother when everyone is on the same page, so be careful to keep your details consistent as you communicate. Keep in mind that the earlier you communicate details, the easier it will be for people to prepare, take time off work, and travel to visit for the holidays if that is a part of your holiday plans.
4) Anticipate Conflict
While the first three steps will help you diminish the risk of conflict over the holidays, the possibility of conflict still exists. As you develop plans, take into consideration any problems that may occur. You know your ex and the things that might cause conflict with them. Plan ahead for the potential conflicts, including planning how to address the conflict if or when it occurs, so when a conflict does begin to take shape, you can swiftly address it.
Planning ahead for conflict not only increases your haste in dealing with it when it comes, but it also often stops the conflict before it has a chance to emerge. When you take possible conflicts into account while planning, it becomes easier to see ways in which the conflict can be avoided all together.
Of course, unanticipated conflicts do take place — even after steps have been taken to reduce the risk — but by anticipating conflict and setting up the means to address it properly, your holiday will remain smooth and enjoyable.
If you have any questions or concerns, or if you are facing constant, difficult conflict in planning holidays with your ex, consult with an attorney near you.