Co-Parenting: The Holiday Timeshare

Whew! The holidays are over. What a whirl wind that was. Our baby girl arrived home on Halloween, we celebrated Thanksgiving with our two 5 year old children a couple days early and laughed on Christmas morning when my daughter looked up from the wreckage of present opening and asked the dreaded question that no parent who just spent a fortune on Christmas presents wants to hear “Is that it?”

This after she had just had an early Christmas with her dad, which included a visit from Santa Claus (seriously, a guy in a Santa suit came to their house) and a full night of present opening on Christmas Eve with her dad’s extended family. How lucky is she? Co-parenting during the holidays definitely presents some challenges.

One such challenge is finding the time-share arrangement that will work for your co-parenting team.

The Even Split

The specific time share arrangements mandated by court approved parenting plans vary. Some parents alternate the holidays, with one parent taking the child for Thanksgiving and the other parent taking the child for Christmas, and then alternating the following year.

Some co-parents attempt to share each holiday in some sort of even split of the day (i.e. one parent having the child from 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving day, the other having the child from 3:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. Thanksgiving night). For the child, the benefits of any time share arrangement are that they are able to attend holiday events on both sides of the family, have two visits from Santa Clause and multiple turkey dinners (sometimes in the same day!).

However, the holidays can also be overwhelming. From the child’s perspective, it is hard to have to attend multiple family events in the same day. Most children from divorce maintain dual lives (they behave one way at one house and another way at the other), so by requiring an even split of the day you are essentially requiring them to change gears mid-way through what is supposed to be a special day. This can take the fun out the day for the kids and be downright stressful. Co-parents often wonder why their child is cranky after coming back from the other house. Well, it may very well be that the poor little guy is overwhelmed!

Alternating Holidays

Although you may not want to give up seeing your child on Christmas day, you should really put the child’s needs first and realize that from their point of view, they would probably rather just stay put and play with their toys and not be shuffled all over the place on Christmas.

My advice as a co-parent and step-parent is to alternate the holiday every other year (unless your co-parenting family and extended family is so friendly with one another that you can celebrate together- a very rare situation).

There is no rule that says that Thanksgiving has to be celebrated on Thursday. Why not celebrate on Friday so that your child can enjoy his or her day without the stress and disruption of the custody schedule? In our house, it isn’t really a holiday unless we have all of our kids. I have made a big turkey dinner on Tuesday night and called it Thanksgiving. It is still special. I still have the pictures. My kids don’t know the difference.

Jessica H. Anderson
Reno Family Law Attorney