Barbara Rothberg, DSW, LCSW

Therapy, Coaching, Mediation and Parent Coordination


What's the "right" Holiday Schedule

C hoosing a holiday schedule for divorced parents can be a nightmare, but with sensitivity it can be manageable. There is no "right" schedule, the one that is best is what works for your family.

Holiday time can be wonderful and it can also be very painful. It is a hard season not to be with your children. And being divorced means that part of the time you are not with your children. Both parents need to share the holidays with their kids.  So, what's the best way to figure out a fair and equitable schedule ? Every family is different and different needs must be respected. First, it is important to honor family traditions. What has the family always done for the holidays? What are the children accustomed to doing? If every Thanksgiving has always been spent with Grandma and Grandpa, mom's parents, does that mean it should always continue? Well, that would not really be fair.... but it might be helpful to have the first one, after the divorce, spent the usual way. That is, for the kids sake, and let them know that next year, dad will be taking them for the holiday if he chooses.

I have worked with some divorcing couples who have chosen to have all Thanksgivings with one parent in exchange for all Christmas days with the other, though most couples tend to want to share those times by alternating holidays. Many couples easily alternate Thanksgiving day every other year very successfully. Sometimes that means only the Thursday, and other times, it may be a weekend, particularly if parents are traveling to visit family out of town. Sometimes the weekend is split between Thursday and Friday and Saturday and Sunday. The key is that there is no "right" schedule. It must work for the family.

Christmas means different things to different people, and here it is also important to honor tradition and family as well as religion. For some people, Christmas Day or Christmas Eve is the most important time. If each is very important to both parents, then it may be appropriate to either split Christmas eve and Christmas day and rotate that every other year, or spend both times with their children and rotate that schedule every other year. Neither is ideal, but it is important to be fair. It is certainly a loss for parents who celebrate Christmas to not be with their children, Divorce is not easy.

In some cases, Christmas is not important to one parent and is to the other. If this is the case, it provides the opportunity for generosity. The parent who doesn't celebrate the holiday can freely give the time to the other parent. When this happens, it is usually paid back with good feelings and other time. If parents are of different religions, it is important to respect the traditions of both backgrounds. This is usually easier as the days, for example, of Chanukah and Christmas are usually not the same.

The best schedules are those that respect the needs of each parent and focus primarily on the best interests of the children. The parents who can be fleible with one another are the ones that are generally happier and have the most successful co-parenting relationships.