Children generally take their lead based on the actions of their parents. Remember, it is not what you say, but what you do and what you do could wind up backfiring on you if you are not careful. The most important thing that you and your spouse can do is to put your children first and do what is in their best interest. Things to think about:
• How have you always celebrated this holiday? Whose family have you traditionally spent it with? For instance, is Christmas Day always with Mom’s family and Christmas Eve always with Dad’s family? Is the first night of Chanukah the most important to your family? This might be the way to start things off. However, as great as old traditions are, it is great to start new traditions as well. Just because you may have always celebrated one way, doesn’t mean it isn’t time for a change.
• Do either you or your spouse place importance on a specific part of the holiday? Some families do morning or afternoons celebrations where others meet around dinner time. Is it possible for your both to enjoy different parts of the same holiday? Always try to be flexible.
• Do you and your spouse practice the same religion and celebrate the same holidays? This can certainly make it easier and allow your children to have the best of both worlds.
• What do you think the children really want to do? While they should not be able to make this decision for you, if you know they only get to see certain extended family members during a particular holiday, will they feel cheated or upset if they don’t get to celebrate with them? How can you create new memories and traditions for them to cherish and look forward to?
• How would you feel if you only received the holiday schedule you offered to your spouse? Often times when one spouse wants all of the holidays and doesn’t want to share them, it is useful to ask them how they would feel if they were offered that very thing. Your children will thrive if given the opportunity to spend quality times with both parents. You are both transitioning from having all the holidays spent with your children (and each other), to something less. You are not the only one feeling the loss.
• Be encouraging to your children and tell them it is okay that they will not see you for this holiday, but that you will see them the next day, or the next year they will celebrate that same holiday with you. If your children know you are supportive, they will be happier.
• Can you and your spouse discuss parameters regarding holiday gift spending? The holidays can put a financial strain on any family, but it is even more difficult when you are going through a separation or divorce. Can you each work within a budget? Can you agree to contribute equally to big ticket items? You both have to remember that there was likely a budget before and it will be tighter now. Try to find ways to work together so you don’t duplicate gifts. They don’t really need an iPad for each of your homes.
The most important thing to remember is that you are both parents to these children forever. You are both going to have to work together in raising your children. That starts with sharing holidays, and will continue to sharing many future special events in your children’s lives, including sporting events, graduations, birthdays and weddings. How you behave now will have an impact on your future.
Allison Davis is a lawyer with Davis & Ferber