Developing a Holiday Visitation Schedule…
That Works!

In our experience working with divorced and separated parents here at Talk Works, one of the biggest challenges they face is sharing custody during the holidays. Understandably, both parents want to spend holidays with their children – while sharing this time with an ex-spouse or partner may feel impossibly painful, particularly if there are lingering feelings of anger or sadness about the end of the marriage or relationship. Unfortunately, anger over the divorce or separation can prevent parents from being able to successfully work together in the best interest of their children, including being able to establish a workable visitation schedule that allows the children to spend time with both parents during the holidays.

In order to avoid conflict and stress about the visitation plan during the holidays, we suggest trying the following:

1. Separate your feelings about the divorce or separation from the visitation plan.
You may be feeling angry at your ex for what happened during or at the end of the relationship. However, it is EXTREMELY important that you not attempt to punish him or her by withholding time with the children. Regardless of how you feel about your ex, your children need and deserve to have both parents in their lives.

2. Continually ask yourself: Are these the kinds of memories I want to create for my children? This question will enable you to stay focused on what is most important: your children and their well-being. Too often in our work, we have heard adults from divorced homes describe their own childhood holiday memories as being painful and stressful due to their parents’ ongoing conflicts and fighting about the custody and visitation issues. Research indicates that what is most damaging about divorce and separation to children is this ongoing parental conflict. If you find yourself continually fighting with your ex – especially if this is happening within earshot of your children! – STOP and ask yourself if these are the kinds of memories you want to create for your children. Remind yourself that these experiences will shape their views of childhood and will impact their own relationships in adulthood. It is in your power to raise children who will become happy and healthy adults!

3. Treat your ex like a business colleague whose business you want.
You don’t have to love or even like your ex-spouse or partner. However, you do have to continue to “co-parent” with him or her, which means finding a way to have at least minimal interaction regarding your children. If interaction with your ex is strained or emotionally volatile, it is time to re-define your connection and establish a new way of communicating that takes the emotional element out of the exchanges. Experiment with treating your ex as a business colleague whose business you want. Remember that you don’t need to like your business colleagues; instead, you need to treat them with enough respect that an effective working relationship is established. Other ways to take the emotional element out of exchanges include communicating by telephone or email rather than in person, and establishing ground rules for exchanges, such as limiting all communication to matters regarding the children (i.e. rather than rehashing relationship, divorce or break-up issues).

4. Compromise! (For the sake of your children!)
Of course, we can’t talk about establishing a shared holiday visitation plan without mentioning compromise! Yes, it is obvious that compromising is necessary, but parents who are in the midst of an all-out battle over sharing holiday time can easily forget this. Compromise doesn’t mean sacrificing your time with your children during the holidays; instead, it means you get creative about how to share holiday time. For some holidays, it may make the most sense to alternate every other year – for example one of you spends Thanksgiving with the kids in “even” years (2004, 2006, etc) and the other one spends Thanksgiving with the kids in “odd” years (2003, 2005, etc). For other holidays, it may be possible to “split” or share the time each year. For example, for Christmas perhaps you will celebrate with the children on December 24th and your ex will celebrate with the children on December 25th. Maybe you will want to establish this as the tradition every year, or you may want to alternate this schedule every other year so that one year you have the children on December 24th and the next year you have them on December 25th.

Keep in mind that compromising may involve establishing new traditions for your children. A lot of parents try to continue long-standing holiday traditions after a divorce or separation, and find that these traditions no longer work if children are going back and forth between two households. Don’t make the mistake of holding onto traditions that no longer fit your life-style and current arrangement. This can cause a great deal of stress and frustration! What matters most is not what, when and where the tradition is, but rather that there is a fun tradition that makes holiday time with your family special. This is a great opportunity to put your creativity to use! You might want to enlist the help of your children in developing these traditions to make them even more meaningful.

5. Focus on Your Role and Responsibility in Your “Co-Parenting” Relationship
As you know, you have no control over your ex-partner’s actions. For this reason, it is a waste of valuable time and energy focusing on what your ex-partner is or “should” be doing. For instance, rather than focusing on how your ex-partner is not willing to compromise on a particular holiday, focus your attention on the ways you can compromise in this area. If your ex-partner refuses to compromise on spending this Thanksgiving with the children, for instance, be the one to make the compromise. For example, propose that if he or she has the children for Thanksgiving this year, then you will have the children on New Year’s Eve this year, and the next year you will reverse this schedule. If the 50% of the relationship that you are responsible for is filled with compromise, stress-free communication and positive interactions, you are bound to see your ex-partner’s 50% of the relationship start to reflect the same characteristics.

So, rather than focusing on how your ex-partner’s past actions mean he or she doesn’t deserve to see the kids, focus your attention on how you can help your children adjust to the divorce or separation and what you can do to meet their emotional needs during this challenging transition. Take responsibility for what you can do to create a working co-parenting relationship with your ex-partner. After all, this is the only thing you have control over!

If the above suggestions are still not enabling you and your ex-partner to successfully co-parent and share time with your children, we recommend you seek the assistance of a Marriage and Family Therapist, Mediator, or other skilled professional experienced in assisting parents with communication and custody conflicts. The professionals at Talk Works are specifically trained and experienced in helping parents learn new communication and conflict resolution skills. In addition, our knowledgeable staff can provide you with referrals to attorneys and child custody mediators who will assist you in establishing a workable holiday visitation schedule.

All of us at Talk Works wish you happy holidays and successful co-parenting!

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Holly Pedersen, Ph.D. is the President and co-founder of Talk Works, Inc. a conflict-resolution and communication training company based in Beverly Hills, California. A successful author, lecturer and entrepreneur, Dr. Pedersen is dedicated to helping individuals, couples and business organizations learn new communication skills to minimize stress and maximize success.