The holiday season can be a stressful time of year for a number of reasons, not the least of which is solving parenting time issues. Here are some common problems and tips to help solve them this year:
1. Alternate time schedules: As with summer break, parents of school-age children often find their parenting schedule arrangements lacking during the holiday season. Because many schools excuse classes for two weeks or longer, parents may need to arrange for child care during those weeks, particularly if both parents work, take classes, or are otherwise busy during normal school hours. Such care can be costly, especially in December, so an early discussion is the best route to making suitable arrangements for parents and children.
Even if child care is not a problem, commonplace arrangements like exchanges at school may no longer be possible. High-conflict parents may need to find alternative places to drop off and pick up their children, such as a grandparent’s or close friend’s home. Coming together to solve scheduling problems long before the holiday break can help to reduce the impact that such changes will have on families.
2. Holiday travel: Many families travel during the holiday season. Although long-distance co-parents may already be accustomed to working out travel glitches, planning visits with extended family may be more troublesome than usual because of busy airports, higher airfare, and tighter schedules. If one parent objects to travel arrangements, whether because of scheduling, the mode of travel, the destination, or for some other reason, negotiating approval can take time.
For parents whose arrangements place children with one parent during the school year and with the other during time off, the holiday break may not neatly fall into either of those categories, creating another area for debate.
Preparing for these possible conflicts before finalizing any plans will likely prevent a headache later on and can reduce the impact that uncertainty has on families.
3. Holiday plans: Solving child care and travel issues may be the least of parents’ worries when it comes to the holiday season. Often, the most difficult discussion to have is determining where children will spend the actual holidays, such as Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and so on. These can be important days for families, and arrangements that worked well in previous years may no longer satisfy one or both parents, the children, or other family members involved in parenting decisions.
If you are in the process of establishing an initial parenting time schedule, careful consideration should be given to creating a detailed holiday schedule which specifically defines the beginning and end of the holiday, who should have the children on that holiday, and any other provisions for transportation or communication with the other parent. Many parents going through a divorce or separation often believe that they don’t need to pay particular attention to the details of a holiday plan because “we’ll be able to work it out,” but the last thing you want is a dispute on Christmas Eve because your plan did not specifically state when Christmas Eve ends and when Christmas Day starts and your schedule is not agreeable to the other parent.
If you already have a parenting plan in place, it is still important to start talking about holiday arrangements as early as possible to eliminate potential conflicts or disputes. If there is a conflict that cannot be resolved between the parties, court intervention may be necessary – and court intervention takes time.
Above all else, the best interest of the children is the most important factor to consider when making holiday plans. Whether children are old enough to give their opinions or not, careful consideration of their needs and wishes should be the first step before making any other decisions. The holiday season is a time when memories are created – early planning with children’s interests in mind is the best way to ensure that those memories are great ones.