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Holiday Parenting Plans
Parenting as a single parent during the holidays can be tough. Some advance planning will save you from some of the holiday stress, however. In our practice, we find that a well thought out parenting plan, including exchange times for the children, is key to having holiday parenting go smoothly. Children also appreciate knowing where they are going to be on any given holiday. Structure is especially important for younger children and toddlers. Even if you basically agree to share holidays and there's no disagreement, you will want to establish a plan well in advance (say, in October for Thanksgiving and December) so that everyone else in your lives can make plans, too.
If you won't be with your children on an important holiday, be sure to make plans for yourself well in advance. For example, if you wake up on Thanksgiving Day alone, with no plans for the day, you could face a long, lonely day when everyone else is with family or friends and most stores and restaurants are closed. Treat yourself to something to look forward to while the children are with the other parent. It's important that your children don't feel sorry for you, too, so if they know that you are happy and taken care of that will also free them up to enjoy themselves with the other parent.
Holidays with Multiple Celebration Days
Some holidays, like Christmas, Easter and Passover have 2 celebration days. For example, "Christmas" can be divided up with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, "Easter" may be divided with Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and Passover may be divided with first night Seder and second night Seder. Other holidays, like Halloween, are also celebrated during the season with parties and events in addition to the actual date. While one day might be more widely celebrated, the second day also gives the other parent an opportunity to be involved in the holiday each year, even if he or she doesn't have the "primary" day in that particular year.
In the case of Federal holidays, which are generally celebrated on a Monday, many parents elect to extend the previous weekend by 24 hours. Also, if only one parent has off from work on the Federal holiday(s), it may also make for a natural extension of time.
Children's birthdays may or may not supercede the regular parenting plan. Some parents prefer to give each parent the opportunity to see the child on his or her birthday, even if it's just for a short period of time. Other parents split the birthday with the actual day to one parent, and the following Saturday or Sunday to the other parent for the birthday party, alternating each year. Talking in advance about whether you'll invite each other, both extended families, and/or new partners to the child's party, and how you'll handle the stress surrounding this mix of relatives and friends, can make the event go more smoothly.
Alternating Holidays Each Year
Many parents alternate holidays, with one parent having a holiday in even-numbered years, and the other having the children in odd-numbered years. Or, if one family has a special event held each year (e.g., Uncle Fred's 4th of July Picnic), one parent may have the children on that holiday each year and the other parent has the children on another holiday each year. This allows you to create family traditions that are repeated each year.
Many parents elect to use the following language: At the birthday parent's option: children are with the birthday parent or with the other parent with 48 hours' notice to the other parent.
Joint or sole custody may be awarded based on the best interests of the child and other factors that include 1) the preference of the child, 2) the desire and ability of each parent to allow an open and loving relationship between the child and the other parent, 3) the child's health, safety and welfare, the nature and contact with both parents and 4) the history of alcohol and drug use. Marital misconduct may be considered.
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