It’s September, and if you’re like 50% of all children who grow up to witness their parent’s marriage come to an end, you’re starting to get that creeping existential dread: The Holidays are coming.
There is no other time of year when the impacts, emotions, and stress of divorce or split custody are more apparent than from November to January. Both of your parents likely spent hours with their attorneys, painstakingly negotiating the terms and conditions of Christmas in a way that would put Apple’s latest user agreement to shame. Who get’s the morning, who get’s the dinner, who is and isn’t allowed to come over for Christmas Eve, or Hanukkah, or Thanksgiving. It’s all laid out there for you and until you’re an adult, there’s not much say in what you want to do. So, while most kids are thinking about the entire family going to visit their mom or dad’s relatives this year, you’re split between at least two households and thinking about how you got a schedule to keep.
And you will keep that schedule, because you know better. Stick to the plan and everything will be just fine. If you can just get through this year without any slip-ups (like how last year you called dad just before opening present’s at mom’s house), none of the cracks will show and there won’t be a fight.
This will not get any easier as you grow up either. You would think that as you gain some autonomy and say in where to you, things would be a little smoother. The problem with that is all of the agency and control has been taken out of your parent’s hands and put into yours, and that’s almost worse. How do you decide to divide up your winter vacations if you’ve gone away to college? How do you decide who to spend Thanksgiving with, to pick you up or drop you off at the airport? Who’s the first parent you see? Are they going to grill you about what the other parent is doing?
Life marches on and now you’re dating. The good news is it’s serious. The bad news is that you now have to find a way to fit a third family into your rotation. What may have been a well-developed schedule before now becomes a logistical nightmare, rushing through visits only a few hours long that you can’t really enjoy because the click is ticking and you need to make sure you’re on time to the next stop. Never mind that your parents get pulled towards other engagements as they potentially re-marry and settle down again; will they even be able to line up with your schedule? Your time is limited, and it’s nearly impossible to do everything.
This is what your kids will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. As you move through the divorce or custody process, there will be a significant focus on your separation and what you want to achieve, but you cannot forget about the third order effects of what you’ve decided. Meticulously crafting a holiday schedule can only amp up the tension and interfere with their attempts to have a meaningful relationship with both parents.
Before you sit down at the table to work these things out, always remember that you need to keep your children first. Think about their personality and whether or not what you’re doing will increase the chaos of the holidays. Regardless of your attitudes toward you partner, unless there is a good reason (such as abuse), you need to work with them, be flexible, and plan in advance. Don’t put your expectations on them, so that they have to make decisions to try and please everyone. Just enjoy the holidays.