Creative ways to Divide Holiday Time with Kids

When you create a parenting plan in mediation one area that you’ll discuss is how to divide holidays and special occasions. Most people automatically think of a few major holidays like Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, but there are actually 12 major holidays plus special occasions like Hallowe’en, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. Add to that each parent’s birthday, each child’s birthday, March Break, and P.A. Days and you have a long list of special scheduling to discuss.

With some patience and creativity you can often divide up the holidays in a way that leaves everyone satisfied. Always remember that the goal is to put the needs of the kids first. So when considering these options you always want to look at them through the lens of how the kids will experience the holidays and what will be the most meaningful to them.

Here are some creative options. Look at each holiday and decide which method would work best, rather than choosing one blanket method to decide for all of them. You’ll likely use different methods for different holidays, and the changing needs of your children. The way you decide about Christmas might not be the way you decide about a birthday, and the way you decide when your child is 3 probably won’t be the way you decide when she’s 13.

  1. Celebrate together. Both parents celebrate the holiday together with the children as a family unit. This option only works well for parents who can get along amicably, and it requires a lot of ground rules. Will new partners and extended family be included? At who’s house will you arrange this? Is this an all-day event or just a few select hours? This can be a wonderful option for the kids, but consider if it’s realistic for you and your ex and set some very clear ground rules to avoid any conflict.
  2. Who is the holiday most important to? How has it typically been celebrated with the kids? One of you may really care about taking the kids out for Hallowe’en while the other is content to stay home and give out candy. Maybe it makes more sense for Dad to have the kids every May long weekend because they’ve always gone to his family’s cottage. There’s no point to having Mom sit at home with the kids on Boxing Day when a big dinner is happening with Dad’s family. Think about the existing family traditions, who they’re celebrated with, and who really cares about each holiday.  You may find that there’s a lot less disagreement than you think and you can reasonably negotiate so that everyone has the holidays that matter most to them.
  3. Each parent has their own celebration on different days. This option works for longer, major holidays like Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving. You can discuss ways to divide up the time, keeping in mind what will work well for the kids. No child wants to have 1 hour on Christmas morning before being whisked away to the next house, but maybe they spend Christmas Eve day and night with one parent and then Christmas Day with the other. Each day can have it’s own traditions of a special meal with extended family, opening presents, and spending lots of time together. Neither is less significant in the eyes of the child. Similarly, maybe Dad has the kids on Sunday for Thanksgiving dinner with his family and Mom does the same on Thanksgiving Monday. This is also a good option for birthdays. If Mom’s thing is parties she can throw a party the Saturday before the birthday, but Dad has the child for their actual birthday and they go for dinner together. Kids win with this option because they’re getting even more time of celebration with family and new traditions to look forward to each year.
  4. Follow the existing residency schedule. This means that the children remain with whoever happens to have that date according to the schedule. This is a common choice for less popular holidays like Family Day or the Civic holiday in August. With this option you could end up without the kids several years in a row, so parents use it when the holiday isn’t celebrated in a significant way that’s important to them or the children.
  5. Alternate Years. Here parents simply go back and forth and each year one of them gets the holiday in question. Sometimes this is listed as “even or odd” years. In even years Mom gets Christmas Day, in odd years Dad does. This can be a necessary option if parents just can’t agree on how to split a holiday, or if extended family events are all happening on the same day. For example if both Mom’s and Dad’s family has a big dinner on Christmas Eve then at least the kids get to attend every other year. It’s always preferable if parents can discuss each holiday and consider some of the above options to see what works best before resorting to this one. This option may seem the most “fair” because parents are splitting the time evenly, but it can leave the kids missing out on the tradition of celebrating a holiday the same way each year. There are only so many years to celebrate while kids are young so it can be difficult to establish traditions if they only get to happen every other year.

I’ve written before about how important traditions are to kids. Celebrating holidays and special occasions are what traditions are made of. When parents can have a thoughtful, open discussion in mediation to consider options for the holidays they can often create a schedule filled with rich family memories and the kids don’t feel like they’re missing out.


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