‘Tis the season for friends and families to celebrate all of our many blessings. It’s a time for decorations, presents, and special music. But what happens when your kids are away from you visiting your ex-partner? Grab a tissue and dry your eyes. It’s really gonna be alright if you set clear expectations for yourself, for your kids, and for dealing with your ex-partner.
1) If your divorce involves a custody agreement read the court order well. Is the court-ordered decision about who gets the kids for which holiday and how it has to be? Not all the time. Once the divorce is finalized, the court really doesn’t care anymore. They’re not waiting for one of you to slip up so they can spank a hand. The court order is a guideline to work from, to make sure that the best interests of the children are always observed.
2) Be flexible. So, about that court order? Do you have to strictly adhere to the visitation/custody schedule? The answer is no. Just like most things in life, everything is negotiable within reason. You can always swap one holiday for another holiday, and one weekday or weekend for another. If there are far-away relatives involved, it may best benefit the kids to be with that part of their family for the holiday. Be open to swapping the schedule around all year long, but especially on the holidays. Your kids will have special school events that may coincide with the visitation schedule. Flexibility allows for the other parent have the kids on a different night so they get some kid-quality time, too.
3) Continue old traditions, but create new ones! Be sure to do those “things” that you’ve done every year – a special cookie recipe, a special meal, special activities. Simple things like a hot drink treat reassure children that life is okay, even when things are different. Keep an eye open for new activities that you can incorporate into your new lives without your ex-partner.
4) Have a sit-down calendar meeting (if possible) with your ex-partner. Actually sitting down with your ex-partner and doing a calendar meeting is essential to making things work smoothly as you share parenting duties, especially during the holidays. Being clear on who has the kids on what day and time is critical for everyone’s sanity. If you are unable to meet face to face with your ex (for the benefit of the children, please put animosity aside), try using a shared online calendar. You may end up using a shared online calendar even when you see your ex on a regular basis! Not all of us are great at looking at our calendars, so creating one that sends reminders to our smartphones can be a huge help for everyone. As your kids get older, you can print out the calendar so they know where they’re going to be each weekend. Color-code the calendar to make it easier– each parent gets their own color!
5) At some point, you may be travelling with your kids over the holidays. It may be the first time that you’ve done it solo, or you may be a seasoned pro at it. Whatever the case, plan everything out, have contingency plans, and leave time for kids to unwind and get as much exercise as possible.
6) As difficult as it may seem, sometimes your kids may have to get on a plane to go visit your ex-partner. Check with the airlines about rules for unaccompanied minors – under five-years-old, the answer is no. Five to seven-year-olds can fly on non-stop or direct flights only in certain cases. From eight to fourteen-years-old kids can travel on most flights, with major connections. There is a fee involved so check with your airline. Typically two kids can share the same unaccompanied minor fee. The fee gives your child escorted service from the ticket counter to the gate, from the gate onto the airplane, and special treatment while onboard. Your child will also be escorted to any connecting flights if needed. You (and/or your ex-partner) will need to arrange to meet your child at the gate in advance. Once your child is fifteen-years-old, they no longer have to be escorted through the airport. Heads up–some kids as young as twelve are able to handle the airport on their own, especially if they’re frequent flyers. It’s up to you if you’re ready to trust them and let them go alone. This mom is a freak, and I want them accompanied until they’re married, just saying!
7) If you’re alone on the holiday, either don’t be alone, or revel in being alone! Do your best to have other friends and family with you. Invite them to your home for a special meal, or travel to someone else’s home. Volunteer at a food kitchen or shelter. Use video conferencing to hang out with your friends and family that don’t live near you. Snuggle up on the couch (or in bed) with a Netflix binge-watch. Take a hot bath with candles. Do those beauty treatments that are time-consuming and oh-so-good for your skin. Read that book that bought months ago and haven’t started. Drink hot tea and hot cocoa (in the warmer months, drink some lemonade!) Clean out that closet that has hidden memories of your past. If you’re still mourning the passing of your marriage, have a finishing ceremony! Write down all of the things that you miss, all of the things that make you angry, that make you sad, that you wish you’d never seen, heard, or said. And take that paper – and burn it. Burn it outside on the patio, burn it in the fireplace, burn it on the stovetop. Scream out and cry out your anger and your sadness. And let it all go. Be kind to yourself.
You hear the phrase “time heals all wounds” from many sources. I don’t know that I agree with that phrase. I think time adds other memories that lessen the pain from your past. And you’ll think about the bad stuff less and less. I think a better phrase is “time numbs most wounds…” Enjoy your kids during the holidays, and all of the year!