Now that the holiday season is safely behind us, it’s time to take stock of what worked, what didn’t, and what we can improve to make the holidays better for our children and ourselves. Did Dad bring Johnny over an hour late to Christmas dinner? Did Mom buy Sally the present you told her you were going to get? The holiday season puts everyone on edge, and it can be extra stressful in a co-parenting situation. Before you get sucked into the whirlwind of a new year, now is a good time to take stock of how your parenting plan and decisions worked for you and your children this year, and what you might want to change before next year rolls around.
First, evaluate what went well, what went poorly, and what is within your control. While parenting plans spell out what is supposed to occur, most plans allow parents to negotiate changes, either in writing or possibly verbally, depending on the co-parents’ relationship. Some of my clients would love to have a more flexible schedule during the holidays. Some ex-couples can make this work, others don’t have the type of co-parenting relationship that facilitates last minute changes. If you would like more flexibility and easier negotiations with your ex next year, consider making it your New Year’s resolution to be more flexible yourself. If you see a pattern, such as habitual untimeliness, try to plan around it – it’s easier and cheaper for you to move Christmas dinner back an hour than to ask your attorney to renegotiate the parenting plan. If the parenting plan is unclear, or at least unclear to one party, it may be time to revise it to prevent future confusion. For instance, some parents have a hard time determining how regular parenting begins after the holiday schedule ends. Often, parenting plans aren’t drafted with the level of detail some parents need in order to co-parent effectively.
Keep in mind that while holidays are stressful for families, the attorneys and courts aren’t necessarily the most efficient or cost effective means to handle holiday parenting issues. Attorneys take holiday time off, as do judges and court staff. There may be several days when the court is closed over the holiday break where nothing can be accomplished by legal means. As one of our judges used to say, “Your urgency is not my emergency.” Obviously, if there is a risk of physical or severe emotional harm to your child, contact your attorney. Remember to keep a written record of all communications regarding holiday parenting issues. While text work best in real time situations, email is easier to save and search if you need it later as evidence.
As always in co-parenting, the best interests of the children should be at the forefront of all decisions. Talk to your children about what worked for them, in an age-appropriate way. Finding out what makes their holidays more festive is the key to figuring out how best to co-parent them during this time.