Maybe you just separated from your spouse, and you’re confused about how to share custody this Thanksgiving. Or perhaps you suspect the other parent has violated your custody arrangement by planning a trip to his or her parents’ home for the holiday. In either case, you’re feeling stressed out and confused about how to react.
Thanksgiving sparks challenges for many families, even those not embroiled in child custody disputes. With good planning, however, you can create a fun experience for your children and enjoy the holiday. Ideally, you want to extend this sense of grace and gratitude. As Robert Caspar Lintner once observed, “Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day.”
Here are four strategies.
- Be creative and flexible with your calendaring
Holidays notoriously spur calendar fights, even among the happily married. Grandparents, for instance, famously jockey over who gets to see the grandkids, when, and under what circumstances. Fortunately, you’re not helpless. Here’s how to calendar better:
- Review your custody arrangement. What is required of you and of the other parent? Knowing these ground rules helps you negotiate. Speak with your attorney if you’re confused or unsure of the rules.
- Reach out. If you’re on good terms, meet with the other parent (in person or virtually) to negotiate scheduling concerns.
- Use scheduling apps to stay organized and in communication.
- Be empathetic. Focus on the other parent’s feelings and needs. What does he or she want, and why? By attending to what’s motivating the other person, you’ll be a better negotiator.
- Look for win-win solutions. There’s only so much time in a day. Still, you can “expand the pie.” Maybe, for instance, you let your ex take the kids for Thanksgiving in exchange for a special vacation “weekend with dad” in January.
- Identify and meet your needs.
Parents struggling with custody often neglect self-care. Don’t! Remember the “airplane rule” for parents – you must put on your own oxygen mask before you help your child with his or hers. Spend a day at the spa de-stressing with massages and facials, or plan a night out with friends in town for the holidays. Children benefit when their parents are healthier and less stressed, so don’t feel guilty about taking time to take care of yourself.
- Be positive and expect the unexpected.
No matter how much effort you put into planning for the holidays, there’s only so some control you have. As President Einsenhower famously said: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless.”
The unexpected is okay. If you burn the turkey, laugh about it and make the holiday memorable by ordering Chinese instead. If your co-parent changes plans on you last-minute, try to see it as an opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving twice—start a new family tradition called “Thanks Again”!
- Maintain a support system.
When dealing with a custody dispute or tough divorce, it’s natural to feel lonely, even despondent, over the holidays. Surround yourself with people who love and encourage you. Get help with your parenting responsibilities. Recruit your older kids to pitch in.