Holiday traditions have created happy family memories. Stockings hung on the chimney with care, the smell of hot chocolate in the air, and children playing around the Christmas tree. While holidays revolve around time with children, many parents are left wondering how Christmas will feel after separating from their spouse or getting a divorce. And others who have been divorced for some time wish there was a better way to share time with their kids.
While some parents may follow the traditional “Children-with-Mom-in-odd-years-and-Dad-in-even-years,” our divorce mediation clients at The Aurit Center For Divorce Mediation creatively agree on personalized plans that fit more successfully into their holiday traditions.
Consider these creative ways to spend Christmas with your kids as a stocking stuffer from us. We hope these ideas may help improve your future Christmas festivities and most importantly—give your kids the best possible Christmas celebrations.
Option 1: Traditional Odds and Evens
“Christmas Eve shall be defined as December 24 at 11 a.m. overnight to December 25 at 11 a.m. Christmas Day shall be defined as from December 25 at 11 a.m., overnight until December 26 at 11 a.m. Father shall have the Children in all odd numbered years, and Mother shall have the Children in all even years.”
By rotating who is with the children on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day each year, each parent has time to spend with the children and create both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day memories. There is consistency and clarity to the schedule. Children know that each year they will see both parents during the Christmas holiday and switch each year with whom they spend Christmas Eve and wake up in the morning.
When reaching your agreements, Christmas and Christmas Eve can always be defined as a set timeframe, so there is no confusion as to when one parent’s time ends and the next begins. Some parents even have the Christmas Eve holiday end on Christmas Eve at night, exchanging the kids to the other parent late on Christmas Eve.
For some parents, one parent loves Christmas Eve and the other parent loves Christmas Day—so you don’t have to rotate! There is nothing wrong with one parent always having the kids the 24th and the other always having the 25th if that is what makes both of you happier based on your own traditions.
Spending each day with only one parent each year can be difficult for children, especially those who previously saw Christmas holiday as a time when their family came together for the entire holiday. Providing the opportunity for your children to speak with the other parent via Skype or phone can help alleviate some of the difficult feelings associated with spending holidays apart from the other parent.
Shared time for Christmas present opening can also be a plus to counteract totally separate parents over the holiday.
Option 2: Shared Time For Present Opening
“Mother shall have the Child on Christmas Day in odd numbered years, and Father shall have the Child in even years. However, the parent who does not have the children on Christmas morning is invited to share present opening together from 8 a.m until the 11 a.m. exchange time on Christmas Day.”
Spending some portion of the holidays with both parents together can be a wonderful experience for children, if parents ensure a healthy environment for their kids. Opening Christmas presents with both parents can be particularly special. Yes, it is possible, even for some divorced parents to come together for Christmas present opening. This can be very beneficial for children so long as parents have no conflict or tension between them when sharing that time together. Consider an hour or two of shared time together for present opening before the “Christmas Day” parent takes the kids on their way.
If opening presents together is not an option, perhaps consider another time where parents can be together with Children during the holiday. Parents could share a holiday dinner together, a Christmas tree decoration party, or even bedtime stories on Christmas Eve. Any shared moments with both parents will be cherished by children for years to come.
Although we always hope parents can remain amicable even after their divorce, many parents have a difficult time coming together after the divorce process or separation. The holidays should be a time of joy, and arguments between parents would be worse for kids than having the Grinch himself appear at the party. As long as parents can approach the shared time in the spirit children deserve and avoid conflict, this can be a special holiday tradition. But if Children sense tension between parents, this can create more harm than good, and should not be considered.
Option 3: By Mutual Agreement Each Year
“Mother and Father shall confer on October 1, each year, and mutually agree upon the details Christmas Eve and Christmas Day parenting time schedule. Parents shall share the holiday equally unless otherwise mutually agreed.”
Some parents cannot decide the details about how their holidays will be shared due to inconsistencies in their schedules. Reasons might include busy travel schedules or a job schedule where parents aren’t aware of their availability until just before the holiday. Other very amicable parents simply want the flexibility of deciding each year how the holiday time will be spent. Either way, the option of coming together to agree on holiday schedules each year can be beneficial for those whose lives and schedules change often. Knowing that time will be shared “equally unless otherwise mutually agreed” gives parents some security to know that although very broadly worded, each will have the same amount of time over the holiday unless they agree otherwise.
This plan does lack a sense of consistency. Predictability can be very beneficial for children, especially for those whose parents live separately or are divorced. However, a meeting between parents early enough in the year (such as an October meeting) can at least ensure that parents know the plans each year long before kids might start asking for specifics.
Although we always hope parents can remain amicable after their divorce, some parents have a difficult time coming together to reach agreements without assistance, such as from a family mediator. Some clients plan to meet with a mediator each year to plan their holiday schedules and discuss any other possible updates or modifications to their Parenting Plan. This can be very helpful to allow the Parenting Plan evolve with the needs of children. But, when parents aren’t likely to go to mediation and this broad Christmas agreement causes conflict when parents meet to decide the plan, it can be a Christmas recipe for disaster. When parents keep conflict low, and tend to accommodate one another, the generalized nature of this approach can work well.
Option 4: Option to Travel, But Equal Time Otherwise
“The parents agree that in Father’s year, every “even” year, Father has the option to travel outside the State of Arizona with the Children for the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day holiday [specific times such as “evening of December 23 – morning of December 27” can be defined]. However, should Father remain in the Phoenix metropolitan area, Father shall have Christmas Eve and overnight and Mother shall have Christmas Day and overnight. Father shall notify Mother each year no later than December 1 whether he will be traveling with the Children or remaining local.
The parents further agree that in Mother’s year, every “odd” year, Mother may travel outside the State of Arizona with the Children for the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day holiday. However, should Mother remain in the Phoenix metropolitan area, Mother shall have Christmas Eve and overnight and Father shall have Christmas Day and overnight. Mother shall notify Father each year no later than December 1 whether he will be traveling with the Children or remaining local.”
Some families travel often over the holidays, either on vacations or to see relatives. While having the children with one parent for Christmas Eve and the other for Christmas Day allows for time with both parents on the holidays, this can cause strain on travel plans. This solution is ideal so that each parent has the opportunity to travel with the children over the holidays. Each parent gets he entire holiday time on their designated year to spend how they see fit.
It is also flexible so that if the parent with the Children does not travel, the children benefit from seeing both parents. Of course, the parent who had the travel options but did not travel gets the coveted Christmas Eve and overnight to Christmas morning.
Spending the holidays with only one parent for the entire Christmas holiday can be challenging for children when a parent chooses to travel. This can be particularly difficult if the children do not get to spend time with the other parent at all around the holiday. In this case, the other parent may consider still creating a “Christmas” for the children, on a different day. By creating a new December 22nd or 23rd tradition—something different and fun, if one parent makes a habit of travelling, the other parent has created something meaningful that the children still look forward to.
Option 5: Creative Negotiation To Keep Family Traditions
“Father shall have the Children for Christmas Eve evening every year to spend with Father and Father’s family. After Father’s family gathering on Christmas Eve, the Children shall spend the night with Father in all odd numbered years, and with Mother in all even numbered years. Mother shall have the Children every Easter morning.”
Parents can negotiate creatively! Some families have standing holiday traditions that they have had for years. It could be having breakfast with the grandparents on Mom’s side of the family or having Christmas dinner at Dad’s sister’s house. In order to remain consistent, for the children, parents, and families, it can be beneficial to continue these family traditions even after a separation or divorce. Traditions may continue to include both parents, or may solely continue with one parent. Either way, if agreeable to both parents, keeping traditions alive can be beneficial for all.
Here, Father’s family has many cousins that are close friends with the Children. It was important to Father that the children continue this tradition, and Mother supported this as well. Father has Christmas Eve each year, but only every other year does he have the children overnight, so parents get to alternate having the children wake up in their home on Christmas morning.
Then, in exchange for Mother accommodating Christmas Eve dinner with Father each year, Father knew that Mother had a tradition on Easter morning, and offered that she always have that time with the children. This is the magic of mediation!
If both parents are no longer taking part in set holiday traditions, it may be difficult for the parent who is not included, since they may feel as though they are missing out on important memories. Is it possible for both parents to continue to be included in one side of the family’s tradition? Perhaps it is actually possible. If not the other parent may take some solace in accepting that their children’s participation in a family tradition may be most important on Christmas. And, these transitions may be an option to create new holiday traditions.
Option 6: Share Time Together During the Holiday
“Mother shall have the children on Christmas Eve and overnight. Father is invited for Christmas Eve activities. Mother and Father shall have shared mutual parenting time beginning early Christmas morning in order to watch the Children open their gifts. In addition, the parties shall have shared parenting time, by mutual agreement, throughout Christmas Day. Father shall have the Children Christmas evening if he intends to spend time at his father’s residence. Otherwise, Christmas evening with the Children shall be pursuant to the mutual agreement between the parents.”
Sharing the holidays as an entire family is an ideal, that of course, is not possible for many parents after divorce. Especially when parents have engaged in conflict during divorce that continues to escalate after divorce, the notion of shared time together for the Christmas holiday seems impossible. However, when the foundation for healthy co-parenting is laid in divorce mediation, in some cases, we see this ideal scenario come true for parents. Even if you are separated or divorced, sharing holidays can be a tradition and an opportunity to show your children that you are still there for them, through anything. By leaving some openness in your agreements, such as deciding your plans upon mutual agreement, you can go into the holiday with optimism that you plan to spend the time together, but while having the ability to be flexible about the time spent together dependent on your situation each year.
Sharing holidays can become challenging depending on unforeseen circumstances in the future. Possible new additions to the family such as a new significant other or even remarriage and new blended family members can create issues. In these situations, it can become difficult to coordinate everyone’s schedules, or possibly feel awkward when families are blending together for the holidays. Different personalities can cause tension, even conflict among parents.
However, if maintaining time together with your children is of most importance, you have the ability to set boundaries with significant others. Make clear your intensions and priorities. Sometimes, you can control the effects of third parties on your traditions, and of course, sometimes things are beyond your control. It’s important to know the difference. Do what you can to minimize conflict and stay true to what is most important to you. If traditions can continue — awesome for your children. And if not, new traditions can be formed that your children will appreciate. So long as they know their Mom and Dad love them and are united together in whatever way possible to support their best interests, your children will be okay.
Although these six options are successful ways of sharing time with children over the holidays, there are many other creative ways that may be best for your family. Traditions are unique, as are parenting plans. We wish you a healthy holiday season and happy New Year!
Michael Aurit, JD, MDR, is President of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators (APFM), and is a professional divorce and family mediator and Co-Founder of The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation in Scottsdale, Arizona. He also is an Adjunct Professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law where he teaches divorce and family mediation. Michael is a former Fellow of the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution. He also currently serves as Ethics Chair of the Maricopa County Association of Family Mediators (MCAFM). Michael holds his Juris Doctorate degree from Pepperdine University School of Law and Master’s Degree in Dispute Resolution from The Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from The Boston Conservatory of Music.
Additional articles by Michael Aurit