mother on vacation with her childrenThis is my next post discussing the importance of maintaining a court ordered custody schedule. My previous post discussed the importance of utilizing personal time for self-care when children are with their other parent. Becoming a single parent is a difficult adjustment, and while some parents may feel guilty for “enjoying” time away from their children, it is important to build a new identity post-divorce. In this article, I will be discussing how planning and preparing for vacations and holidays can avoid drama not only between parents, but other family members and children as well.

Custody plans should address all vacations and holidays that each parent celebrates or strongly cares about

Custody plans are always going to be unique to the family it applies to. While most “generic” custody plans will address the holidays that a majority of families argue over–Christmas and Thanksgiving, for example, a custody plan for special occasions should be more in depth than stating that parents will switch on and off for major holidays. This is because different families have different priorities. If one parent knows that they always have a big party for the Fourth of July, or that they frequently go on vacation over Memorial Day Weekend, it is important to make sure that those dates are negotiated up front. Your Judge or attorney does not know what your traditions are unless you tell them. Waiting until the last minute and assuming that your co-parent will be fine to “give” you a certain date, or change the status quo is a recipe for disaster. If one or both parents have important religious holidays or religious traditions that are important to them, then it should be explicitly determined how such religious events will be managed.

Families and traditions also change over time. Most parents do not want to go to court unnecessarily, if the basic structure of a custody plan is working. If two co-parents are generally able to communicate with one another, it is a good idea for each parent to sit down once a year and compare calendars. This planning session should address not only logistical calendar issues, but any other issues that may come up. For example, each parent may want to celebrate the child’s birthday. Parents should not only negotiate who the child will spend the day with, but if there will be a party, if there are expectations for gifts, who will pay for any joint celebrations, etc. When parents are planning vacations, it is also ideal to not only block off the dates but discuss any schoolwork or other activities that will be missed, if there are any health or safety concerns regarding the child traveling, where the child will be staying, and if there is any expectation for the co-parent to monetarily contribute to the child’s vacation. If there are certain dates that are very important to either parent– for example, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the parent’s birthday, a more minor holiday such as Easter or Halloween, etc. the co-parent should make sure to bring up the day well in advance. Assuming that a co-parent will not mind switching dates or did not have their own plans on a certain date is a recipe for conflict. If the family uses an app such as Our Family Wizard, it is important to keep the app up to date with itineraries, health information, and all-important calendar dates for the year.

Extended family members should be made aware of holiday plans as necessary

One of the more difficult areas to navigate after a couple with children break up, can be getting family members on board with the custody plan. Grandparents who do not feel like they are able to see their grandchildren as often as they like may complain or become upset if the children do not attend a family holiday. It is important to lay down the ground rules to aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. prior to the holiday in question. If the children need to leave early, or won’t be able to eat because they are having a meal later with their other parent, family members need to be told. Family should be told firmly what the agreed custody plan is, and that it will not be tolerated for family members to make comments of any kind regarding the children’s other parent, or their family, when the children are present. Family members should also not try to manipulate children with toys, presents, or the lure of fun activities to try and win “extra” time outside of the agreed upon custody schedule. If a parent is struggling with family members creating conflict in the custody schedule, and ignoring boundaries, that parent may benefit from parental coaching, or seeking the services of a mental health professional for support.

As a divorce coach, I understand that not being with your children on every holiday and vacation can be extremely painful. I can help a parent make a list of priorities, and help them determine what dates matter most to their unique circumstance. I can also help clients strategize the best way to deal with difficult family members and uncomfortable situations. My coaching is virtual and available to anyone in the United States. Call today if you believe you would benefit from my services.