Children, the Holidays and Divorce – Remember, it is about them
November 30, 2012


During the years that I served as a Custody Conciliator for the Dauphin County Court in Harrisburg, I had the opportunity to talk with children of all ages and to discuss with them the impact of custody schedules on their lives.  It never ceased to amaze and sadden me when children told me that they “hated Christmas” or “really didn’t like Thanksgiving”.  When pressed for an explanation, they told me that inevitably mom and dad would get into a fight over the schedule.  At a minimum, if the custody exchange did not result in open warfare, the children’s fear that an altercation would occur created such stress that many of them felt that the holidays just were not worth the stress.

This  is  certainly  a sad  commentary, but  I can  understand  how it  happens. The  holidays  are hectic – we want everything to be perfect.  It is a season of stress, but with a little forethought and consideration for all involved, the custody exchange does not have to add to the tension.  Here are a few thoughts for your consideration while you prepare for the upcoming Christmas custody exchange.

1.         Confirm the schedule

It is surprising how often parents are operating on different beliefs as to what the schedule is supposed to be.  Mom is operating under the belief that the transfer is to take place at 2:00 pm while Dad thinks it is 4:00 pm.  This problem can easily be avoided by confirming the schedule well in advance.  If possible, the  schedule  should  be discussed and  confirmed at least 2-3 weeks before the holiday; and the confirmation should be in writing so that the children and parents can refer to the written schedule as the holiday approaches.

And be sure to confirm everything – including the place the transfer is to take place.  Don’t assume that the transfer will be at “the normal location”.  Remember, lots of us visit relatives over the holidays and that may create the need for a different transfer point.

The children will find the approaching holiday much less stressful if they know in advance that Mom and Dad are on the same page regarding the time and place of the custodial exchange.

2.         Be flexible

Expect delays – they are inevitable given traffic, uncertain weather conditions and the possibility of unexpected company.  Be sure to telephone the other parent as soon as possible to let him or her know that you will be late arriving for the transfer of custody.  (This courtesy should be afforded to the parent dropping off the child, as well as the parent receiving custody.  Remember, the unexpected can happen to either parent, and courtesy afforded to and by both parents helps lower stress levels and make the children less apprehensive.)

Also, if possible, pick a location for the transfer that will allow for comfortable waiting in the event a delay does occur.

If you are the parent receiving the children for the “second half” of the holiday, avoid scheduling the family dinner or gift opening to occur as soon as the children arrive.  Allow at least an hour between the scheduled arrival time and the beginning of the event.  By allowing time for an unexpected delay, the children do not have to worry about holding up the start of the festivities.

3.         Remember, it is not “all about you”.

The holidays really are for the children.  Create a positive environment for the transfer.  Inevitably, the children are sad to leave one family, but also anxious to see the other.  These mixed feelings need to be addressed, and the children need to know that you recognize the difficult situation the whole process creates for them.  An acknowledgement of their feelings will go a long way to ease the transfer and make for a better holiday for everyone.