By Atty. Andy P. Miller
The holiday season can be challenging for any family, but it is especially so for families in which parents are separated or divorced. That's why the best gift you and your former spouse can give your children is to put their needs first.
Start by being sensitive to your child's feelings, especially if this is the first holiday season after separation or divorce. Given all the focus on family and tradition this time of year, your child may feel awkward or alone because his or her family is no longer together. Your child may also worry about changes in their holiday traditions and routines, or wonder if anything else will be the same.
It's important for both parents to have age-appropriate conversations with their children about what to expect during the holidays, including explaining what will change and what will remain the same. Will they still get together with all the aunts, uncles, and cousins on Dad's side to celebrate Hanukkah? Will Grandma and Grandpa come to Mom's house for Christmas?
It is also important to discuss parenting time, including where your child will be spending the holidays based on your parenting schedule, and/or any special holiday arrangements spelled out in your parenting agreement.
This is one area in which parents should try to put their children's needs first. Regardless of your parenting schedule, you and your child's other parent should talk about what is best for your child. For example, if your former spouse's family party is on "your" weekend, consider allowing your child to attend the party anyway, or switch weekends.
The same is true for the holidays themselves. Given that Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve are both on Sundays this year, it's possible for the custodial parent to have the child for the weekend and for Christmas and New Year's days. If that's the case, consider making an exception so your child can spend Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve (or Christmas Day or New Year's Day) with his or her other parent.
Take into consideration other holiday events and celebrations, too. For example, if there's a special holiday activity that Mom or Dad traditionally do with the family -- such as going to Boston with Dad to see The Nutcracker or travelling to New York City with Mom to skate at Rockefeller Plaza -- try to accommodate your child's wishes to continue those traditions with that specific parent, regardless of what your parenting schedule says.
Additionally, if your child has special holiday events, whether a school concert or marching in the local parade, both parents should make every attempt to attend. You don't have to sit together, but your child will appreciate having Mom and Dad there.
Make sure you and your former spouse talk about your expectations for the holidays and try to map out a schedule so everyone knows what the plans will be. But don't cram too much into the schedule. That simply adds more stress to everyone's hectic schedules during what should be a happy and fun-filled time of year.
Remember that divorce is tough on any child, which is why it's important for both parents to try to minimize the impact by keeping his or her interests first. It's the greatest gift you can give your child, during the holidays and throughout the year.
Attorney Andy P. Miller is the founder and managing attorney of Miller Law Group, P.C. A father himself, Miller focuses on children and their best interests by helping guide parents through the divorce process.