Religion is an important part of many people's lives, and religious holidays are a time when families come together to celebrate. Tradition is important, and many families have their own special way of observing important religious holidays. However, after a divorce or separation, holidays like Easter and Passover can be incredibly stressful and a source of conflict between parents. This is especially true the first time these holidays come around.
Below we've provided some helpful guidance on navigating important religious holidays with your kids and their other parent post-divorce.
Make Holidays Part of Your Parenting Plan
While going through your divorce, you and your co-parent likely developed a parenting plan as part of your custody and visitation agreement. Turning to your parenting plan for a definitive answer on the holidays can relieve stress and reduce conflict. Typically, major holidays are outlined in these plans. During the negotiation process, parents will decide how holidays will be divided and shared.
For example, some parents agree that each year one parent will get the children on Christmas, and the other will get them on Easter. Then, the following year they switch. Another common solution is that each parent will spend half the holiday with the children. In interfaith families, each parent typically gets their children for the specific holidays related to the religion they themselves practice.
Suppose your parenting plan does not have provisions for major religious holidays. In that case, you and your co-parent should consider amending the plan to include them, especially if the holidays are a major source of conflict between you. Speak with a trusted lawyer to discuss your modification options and to make the amendment official.
Be Flexible & Keep an Open Mind
Even with clear holiday provisions in a parenting plan, things may not always work out how you anticipate. While you and your co-parent will do your best to develop a plan that will work for your family in the long-term, you should expect things to fluctuate, especially early on. You may also find that your original plan doesn't work as well as you'd hoped.
For example, depending on when a holiday falls, one parent may end up going an unusually long time without seeing the children. They may ask to change days or get an extra day with the kids later. Similarly, your child's other parent may have relatives in town whom the children rarely get to see. They may request a couple of hours with the children to visit with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Being willing to discuss these things and being flexible can go a long way in strengthening your co-parenting relationship, especially in the early days post-divorce. You may also wish to go back to the drawing board and negotiate a new holiday schedule that will better meet your family's needs.
Listen to Your Children's Needs
The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for your kids. They likely don't know what to expect, and they often feel guilty when they have to leave one parent to spend the holiday with the other. Talk to your kids about the upcoming holiday and find out how they are feeling about it. If they are feeling insecure or unsure about the holidays, reassure them.
Do your best not to impose your own feelings about the holiday on your children. If this is not your year to have the children on Easter, make sure that you do not dampen their excitement for the holiday. When they come home, ask them how it was and be excited for them.
If your children are struggling with not spending the holiday with both of their parents, you can create new traditions that help your children feel as if they are getting holiday time with both parents. For example, if you can make time for holiday-themed crafts before the holiday. You can also have your own celebration with them the day before or after.
Consider Sharing Holidays when Possible
In some cases, children may ask their parents if they can invite their other parent to the holiday celebration or if the family can have a combined holiday. While this is not possible for all families, it is worth discussing if you are on good terms with your co-parent. A shared holiday does not mean that you and your former partner must spend the entire day together. Instead, invite them over for a specific part of the day, such as the Passover Seder or Easter brunch.
If sharing the holiday is not possible, but your children are struggling not seeing their other parent, you may arrange for the other parent to pick them up for a few hours during the day. This will give your children some time with their other parent on the holiday and can encourage a more positive co-parenting relationship.