The holidays are coming quickly and it is truly a magical time for children! If you are like me, you start thinking about, planning and even shopping early to do everything within your power (and budget!) to make the season as special as possible for your family and especially your children, even if they are grown.
But if you are a two household family with child(ren) still at home and a parenting plan dictating the who, what, where, and whens, your to-do list needs to include some extra attention to details because even the world's best turkey dinner and pie does not make up for fighting parents and the internal stress that your child feels from arguments, misunderstandings and miscommunications leading up to and on the holiday itself.
So as you start making your to-do list, please add the following tips in bold, at the top of the list before all of the fun stuff:
1) LOOK AT YOUR PARENTING PLAN NOW! As in stop reading this, get it and look at it! Are the plans for all Thanksgiving and Christmas/Winter Break exchanges and drop-offs perfectly clear?
Is there any room for the parents to interpret the language in the parenting plan differently? The answer in most cases is "Yes, there is room for different interpretations." For example, a parenting plan might say: "Parent #1 gets the child(ren) for Thanksgiving break in all even year and Parent #2 gets the child(ren) in odd years" with no further details. (God bless the attorneys who aren't parents but who draft these plans?!?)
Ok, great! In that example, it is 2022, an even year, so Parent #1 will be celebrating thankfully with the child(ren) this year, while Parent #2 is thankful that he/she does not have to prepare a turkey feast this year, or EVEN BETTER, Parent #2 might be planning a turkey sandwich + holiday movie night when the child(ren) return home to Parent #2!
BUT is there room for confusion? YES!!!
What if the child has the entire week of Thanksgiving off from school?
Do you know where the child(ren) will be EVERY DAY between November 19th and November 27th?
What time is each exchange?
Where will each exchange take place? Since there is no school, pay close attention to this one!
Will there be phone calls to/from the child(ren) from the holiday home? How will calls/FaceTimes/texts be handled?
If you can answer all of these questions about your parenting plan and you are 100% CERTAIN that your co-parent would answer the same, YOU ARE A ROCK STAR!
2) If you are like the majority of co-parents who know well that the terms of a parenting plan look different in application from year-to-year because we are real live people with changing schedules, needs and realities, the SCHEDULE A MEETING NOW with your co-parent!
Seriously, do it today because the arrangements might take a minute. If your co-parent is reluctant or refuses to meet with a "happy heart" (the standard I use with my children for cooperation), then consider a one-hour mediation session, requesting the Court's assistance, if needed.
If your co-parent is willing to cooperate but meetings are not their thing, email your co-parent with your interpretation of the parenting plan application to Thanksgiving, including dates, times and locations of exchanges, and ask for his or her approval or alternative suggestions on or before a certain day. For example, if I emailed my co-parent today, I would make the email subject matter read: IMPORTANT HOLIDAY PLAN, RESP REQUIRED BY 11/14 @ 8:00 PM. I would also close the email with the expectation of a prompt response and a reminder the day before you need the response.
GET THE PLANS IN WRITING. An email between the two of you with an "okay" or other approval is considered a written modification to or clarification of the parenting plan so, if you can get an agreement by email, you are awesome!
3) If Parent # 2 refuses to look ahead or discuss the details, ASK FOR OUTSIDE ASSISTANCE. I suggest that you consult with a third-party, whether it is your parenting coordinator, PCDM, attorney, mediator or a divorce coach but try to get it resolved ASAP. Grandparents on the other side might even be able to offer some guidance.
But again, ask for the assistance NOW, not the first day of the child(ren)'s break! At that point, your child(ren) will be home from school, happy and excited for the holiday break and the best thing you can do for them is to go into the holiday/break with a clear plan. Let your child(ren) know that all parents are in agreement, excited to celebrate/spend time with the child(ren) and THIS (insert your agreed upon plan details) is how everything will go. Doing so will not only alleviate the child(ren)' s concerns that there might be a parental disagreement, which no child likes, but it will also let you go into each holiday with the calm and confidence that you have checked off ALL of the items on your to-do list, including this one for your child!
If you aren't sure where to turn or how to proceed, I have some pre-holiday coaching sessions available if you are interested. You are also welcome to email me: CPS@CompassionMediation.com.
The holidays, whatever your religious preferences or family style, are special for everyone so I beg of you, PLEASE DON'T RUIN IT FOR YOUR CHILDREN WITH A CO-PARENTING DISPUTE. Hang in there, stay strong and keep loving your precious child(ren)...they are each blessings for whom I am truly thankful with you!