So you’ve gotten through your divorce – or maybe are still working your way through it – and now the holidays have arrived. Everywhere you turn you see the same reminders of holiday cheer, the same decorations, the same songs, the same holiday treats. This year, though, everything is different for your family. You and your ex are working on a new co-parenting relationship and your children are adjusting to a new family dynamic. While you’d like nothing more than to make at least the holidays feel familiar for you and your children, the reality is that they have changed too.

As lawyers, our job is to help our clients navigate the often murky waters of the law. But, family law matters by their very nature have an emotional component and we do occasionally find ourselves tasked with helping clients answer questions that are less law and far more human. As today is Thanksgiving, it is an especially appropriate time to discuss one of the biggest challenges faced by divorced and divorcing parents.

In divorce proceedings, the majority of courts promote parenting schedules that require parents to alternate major holidays with their children. In Ohio, all counties are required to have a “standard schedule,” which sets specific dates and times for exchanges. This is generally the “default” schedule that will be put in place when parents can’t agree on something different. But smart parents work with their attorneys to develop holiday schedules that are better tailored to their family’s holiday traditions and preferences (i.e. dividing the children’s winter break from school to allow either or both parents to travel to spend holidays with out-of-town relatives, accounting for differences in religious holidays celebrated, etc.) Either way, this probably means that every-other year you will be without your children for a major holiday.

For many parents, not spending holidays with your children is a painful and lonely experience; you may unfortunately find yourself facing that prospect this holiday season. So how do you make the best of a holiday without your children?

  • First, make sure that you have a clear and detailed plan in place with your ex in advance of the holiday to avoid any confusion. Kids want to know who they’ll be spending the holiday with this year. Assure them that they’ll get an opportunity to celebrate with both parents.
    • Create your own, new holiday traditions with your kids. Establish some fun things that you and your kids can do together, whether it’s cooking, crafts, sledding, or attending family-friendly local events. 
  • Celebrate the holiday on a different day, letting your kids have two full holiday celebrations instead of just one. Be festive and recreate your favorite parts of the holiday, regardless of what the calendar says.
  • Use the holiday without your children to build your own support system. Spend time with family members and friends; enjoy the opportunity to further develop those relationships and to do the things that you’re not able to do when you’re busy caring for your children. 
  • Have some well-earned time to yourself and engage in the activities that you enjoy but find little time to do when you are with your children. Open that novel you’ve been dying to read, get a massage, go to that football game, or just enjoy watching something on television a bit more stimulating than SpongeBob SquarePants. Remember – there is a reason airlines caution you to put your own oxygen mask on before you turn to help your children. Ultimately you will be the best parent you can be when you grab those opportunities to care for yourself.