The leaves are starting to fall in Arlington, Virginia, as I sit to write this article. The days are getting shorter and the weather a bit crisp. The fall and winter holidays are fast approaching. For me, this conjures up memories of family traditions as a child growing up.
I always enjoyed trick or treating in the neighborhood with friends and visiting some spooky settings. In Washington, DC we have “Boo at the Zoo” which is a local favorite.
The cooks in the family would start comparing recipes and plan a big Thanksgiving dinner (with some traditional recipes enjoyed every year and adding a new one here and there). Homecoming football games were a way to keep up with friends who had graduated and returned home for Thanksgiving break.
Holiday shopping would begin and we would visit favorite holiday villages and light shows. Then there was all the last minute gift-wrapping and the singing of carols on Christmas Eve.
Other families have their own traditions that may be centered around a different religion or special day.
As a Mediator and Collaborative Divorce Attorney, I work with a lot of parents who are negotiating a Settlement Agreement and Parenting Plan. Discussing the sharing of time over the holidays can be challenging. Parents think of the memories they have from their childhood and want something equal to or better than what they experienced. They often try very hard to continue traditions.
How can divorcing parents best share family time and enable their children to carry on with traditions? In my work, I have seen parents approach the holidays in different ways.
At first, parents may lean toward separating the actual holiday so the children have two Thanksgiving dinners and a lot of back and forth on Christmas Day. The reason for this back and forth may be due to the parents’ desire to have the children continue with the same traditions with both parents or so the parents can each be happy and not feel they have given up precious holiday time with their children.
Other parents take the opposite approach and alternate the holiday or entire break so that in any given year one of the parents will not see the children for the holiday.
Some parents realize that too much tugging back and forth, along with transition time, can be hard on everyone. There are parents who take the high ground, and want to enable their children to stay put, with both parents coming together for the children’s sake. As long as this togetherness does not add stress to the children, and they enjoy the time together, this option can be a good one.
What if a parent has a new significant other and everyone does not want to be together? What if one or more of the adults, or their child, wants to do their own thing? Some parents may live far apart and others may not feel welcome when extended family members of the other parent are around.
The important message is that everyone benefits from having traditions.
A change in family structure, separation due to a move, children maturing and wanting to make their own choices these are all opportunities to modify some traditions and/or establish new traditions. A special occasion or holiday can be celebrated on any day of the week. What is important is to have meaningful celebrations for a child to enjoy and look back with fond memories of the time with their parents, together or apart. Involving a child in creating a tradition can add meaning to the shared time together, and lay the foundation for planning future holiday time together.