Dear Dr. Jann: My children’s mother and I are trying to work out a parenting plan without going to court. We are at a standstill when it comes to holidays. I want to alternate them and she wants to split the day between us. With Easter right around the corner, we have to make a decision soon. How do we decide?
Dr. Jann: Splitting a holiday where one parent sees the kids in the morning and one sees them in the evening is for parents who get along well and can go with the flow. If you anticipate that it might upset you or your ex when an exchange may not occur when planned, splitting the holidays is not for you. Something will inevitably come up—the Easter Egg Hunt will take longer than expected or the turkey’s not ready on time and the exchange will be later than anticipated. If either parent is easily flustered—or if the kids have a difficult time when things don’t go as planned, I wouldn’t suggest splitting a holiday.
When making the initial decision, here are some things to consider:
- How well do you get along with your child’s other parent?
If you don’t get along, alternating the holiday is the best choice with a neutral exchange place to keep angry interaction to a minimum. If you get along, splitting the holiday might be the correct choice for your kids if you can do the exchanges fast and transportation doesn’t take a huge chunk out of the day.
- How far do you live from each other?
If you live over an hour away from each other, again, alternating the day is the right choice. The kids will be in the car for over an hour each way—and you will be in the car for two hours (to and from) right in the middle of a holiday celebration.
- Age of children.
Older children can understand longer drives, but hate them. For younger children, an hour seems like an eternity. Longer car rides upset their schedule and contribute to very crabby toddlers who will then have lasting memories of having to drive for hours during a holiday. Unless you can make that drive entertaining, alternate the holiday.
- How have you celebrated in the past?
Breaking up and starting over does not just upset your life, it upsets your kids’ lives even more. Will this new arrangement reinforce past traditions or start new ones? And, if new traditions are established, are they traditions to which the kids will easily adapt? With this in mind, I caution parents against completely abandoning beloved past traditions. There are always ways to adjust, either continuing to celebrate as you always have or integrating a little past and a little present to make the transition after a break-up easier to accept.
The key is to make your decision in the best interest of the children—not necessarily what you prefer. So, answer to your question is sit down with mom and honestly answer the question, “What would be best for our children?” There lies you answer.