Divorce is emotionally draining, especially during the holidays and special occasions. Divorced parents must communicate with even more diplomacy, patience, mutual understanding, respect, and tolerance than married couples planning holiday travel, dinners, reunions and gift-giving. Juggling schedules during marriage is hard, and it only gets harder after divorce.
Here are 10 tips for making sure everyone enjoys special occasions:
1. Plan Ahead
Develop a parenting schedule before the holidays.
Avoid scheduling the children for dinner with Dad at noon and a second turkey dinner a few hours later with Mom. Instead, arrange for Dad to spend the entire day with the children in all odd-numbered years, and have Mom spend the holiday with them in all even-numbered years.
If possible, hire a parenting coordinator, usually a child psychologist or divorce lawyer appointed by the court to act as a decision-maker until a judge makes a different decision. You have quicker access to the coordinator than the judge, but the coordinator must be paid.
2. Keep Your Word
Stick to the schedule. Arrive on time and drop off the children on time.
3. Keep in Touch
If the children are not with you for the holidays, call them, and be sure to send cards or email. Consider celebrating the holiday or birthday before or after the actual day. Children love parties and gifts any time - nothing fancy - but something special you create just for them.
4. Let the Children Keep in Touch
If the children spend the holiday with you, let them speak with the other parent. Give the children any cards and email from the other parent, and read the messages to young children who cannot read. If the children are too young to call, help them make or receive a call, and let them have a quiet moment to speak with the other parent. Make sure to avoid planning an exciting activity like gift-opening at the same time that the children are scheduled to speak with their Mom or Dad.
Remember, children usually have a short attention span, so do not blame the other parent if conversations are short.
5. Safe Travel
Make travel arrangements with airlines for long-distance travel. Airlines provide supervision for unaccompanied minors for a nominal fee.
6. The Art of Gift-Giving
Coordinate gift-giving with the other parent. Do not give your child a cell phone if you know Mom is giving her a phone. If your ex-spouse will not cooperate, go ahead with your own plans, but do not complain to the children about the other parent.
7. Acknowledge the Child's Right to Enjoyment
Let your child take gifts to your ex-spouse's home. Conversely, if your child brings home a new toy or bicycle, let your child take it back to her Dad's home, if she wants.
8. To Each His Own
Let the children spend Mother's Day with Mom and Father's Day with Dad.
9. Create Your Own Celebrations
Do not insist upon attending your child's birthday or graduation party if your ex-spouse is throwing the party. Give your own party on another day.
10. Give Your Child Permission to Love Both Parents
Help your child buy or make a gift and card for the other parent, if the child is too young to handle the tasks herself. You are doing your child a favor, not your ex-spouse, because you are giving your child permission to love the other parent - the best gift you can give.
Credit: Sharyn T. Sooho, private practice attorney in Newton, Massachusetts (http://www.sooho.com/)