by Brette Sember
The holidays are a wonderful time -- except when your kids are cranky, overtired, and over-stimulated. Then they are hell-a-days, not holidays. Divorced parents find that managing the holidays can be a huge challenge. It's one thing to keep your child at an even pace when he only lives at one house, but if your child is shuttling back and forth between parents' (and possibly grandparents' homes) over the holidays, you're facing a real challenge.
Because the holidays are such an up and down time, now more than ever, you must stick to the parenting schedule. The regular schedule is definitely going to be shaken up by the holiday schedule no matter what, but sticking to it as closely as possible will really help. If the kids are used to going to dad's house every other weekend and one weeknight per week, continuing with that will help them feel grounded and in control.
Everyone knows that bedtimes go out the window when the holidays arrive. It's nearly impossible to have your kids home, in bed and asleep by 8 p.m. when you're at a family party. Talk with your ex about what is a reasonable holiday bedtime. You might agree to try to be home by 10:30 whenever possible so that the kids can get a decent amount of sleep. Falling asleep under Grandma's Christmas tree does not count as sleeping. Home and in bed does.
The holidays are filled with cookies, candy, hot cocoa, and desserts. Kids deserve a chance to have special treats within moderation, but letting it become a free for all is a guarantee for a sick tummy and hyperactivity. Talk with your ex about controlling sugar intake and try to agree on what the limits are. Approaching this as a team will make things much easier than if one parent is allowing a sugar fest while the other is trying to crack down.
It's very easy to view the holidays as a chance to show up your ex by buying your child a better, bigger, more expensive, more exciting gift. It sounds trite, but you really cannot buy your child's love. Buying meaningful gifts your child will appreciate and enjoy is a great way to celebrate the holidays, but trying to win some undefined competition with your ex does not benefit your child. If possible, try to talk to your ex about gifts. Some parents agree on a spending cap or decide to chip in together on big gifts. Cooperation is the name of the game whenever possible.
Most kids wind up with a holiday schedule that dictates where they will be each day. While this does allow parents to share time, it can be hard for a child to be separated from the parent who is not there at the time. Don't be selfish and insist it is "your" time. Instead, be generous and suggest your child call the other parent or make a card for him or her while with you. Your child needs to feel connected to both parents whenever possible and if you can reach out and allow this to happen, it will benefit everyone.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of: