Holidays Are Not Always Merry for Separated and Divorce Parents

November 17, 2014
Ron Shulman

Article written by Ron Shulman

For some, the annual mid-November Santa Claus parade in Toronto marks the beginning of the holiday season, and with it, the start of many traditionally-themed gatherings and events that celebrate the concept of family and togetherness.

For separated and divorced parents of young children, however, it can signal the beginning of a period of increased tension, heightened acrimony, and pressure to celebrate a notional idea of the traditional intact “happy family” — even though the reality may be something quite different.

If you are a parent in this situation, here are some tips to help get you through the holiday season:

  • Maintain civility.  Even when their disputes are at their worst, parents should try especially hard to dial-down the acrimony around the holidays.  Celebrations are easily marred or ruined by even low-grade tension; parents should at least try to put a moratorium on overt conflict between them. The focus should be on the children, and on giving them the happiest of holiday seasons under what can be very difficult circumstances.
  • Be flexible.  Even when day-to-day custody and access is arranged by way of a strict (and usually court-ordered) schedule, the holidays and added time off from work and school tend to throw a wrinkle into established patterns.  Needless to say, any court-imposed strictures must be adhered to; but beyond that, parents may have to negotiate an acceptable compromise on how things will be done.  For example, while some separated and divorced parents prefer a rigid schedule, others benefit most from allowing for some flexibility – which requires co-operation.   Either way, it’s important for parent to choose the approach that will best serve the children’s interests.
  • Be respectful of the other parent’s religious practices and other traditions.  While we’re on the topic of flexibility, it should go without saying that each parent should respect and accommodate the other’s religious views or established traditions to the extent possible.   This includes the scheduling of visits, dietary accommodations and traditions, and making the children available to participate in religious observances.  Children always benefit from being exposed to the full richness of their parents’ heritage, and this does not change simply because the parents have chosen to separate.
  • Talk about gift-giving in advance.  The expectations and etiquette around gift-giving can get particularly complicated when kids split their time between two homes, where one or both parents have new partners, or where holiday celebrations involve the extended family (such as grandparents).  Issues may also arise if one parent spends considerably more than the other on gifts for the children than the other.  The key to avoiding these kinds of issues is for parents to communicate their respective expectations in advance, and to co-operate with each other in reaching a mutually-acceptable approach.

Do you have questions on how best to navigate the upcoming holiday season?  Contact us for a consultation.