“Can’t we all just get along?” – Suggestions for Holiday Parenting

Family LawIn Texas, as in most states, the law tells judges that the most important thing, overriding pretty much everything except the Constitution, is the “best interest of the child.” If you are a parent, and you aren’t living with your child’s other parent, that should be your priority as well. When you’re angry, or hurt, or fearful, it’s easy to let thoughts of revenge or punishment of the other parent cloud your judgment about how your actions affect your child. So here are a few thoughts to try to hold onto:

  1. There is no child in the world who would complain about having two Christmases, or two birthdays, or two Fourths of July, or two Thanksgivings. If there are orders in place that say that this year is the other parent’s time to have the child for one of those special days, there’s absolutely no reason to let a silly thing like a calendar keep you from celebrating that holiday the next time the child is with you. And it will be just as special in that child’s memory as if it happened on some arbitrary calendar date.
  2. Please, please, please do NOT give the child the idea, or even the hint of a possibility, that he or she gets to choose whether he/she is going to the other parent’s when it’s that parent’s possession time. That does several things to a child, and none of them are good. First, it asks the child to choose between two parents, rather than letting them know that both parents get to, and WANT to, spend time with them. Second, it plants the idea in the child’s head that there must be something wrong with the other parent if you’re suggesting the child might not want to go. Third, it gives up control to the child. Children have no power, so of course they want to get power and control, but if parents actually give control to their children, it’s terrifying to them. They are not adults, and have no idea about how to make adult choices, so they count on their parents to show them how adults act, and what good adult choices are. If you ask your child to make choices that should be yours, that’s as scary for a child as if you suddenly put the child in the driver’s seat of a car going 50 miles per hour and told them they have to drive the car.
  3. The other parent is going to do things different from the way you would do them. That includes holidays. Children understand this, and “different” is just “different,” not better or worse. But if you have in your head a picture of what a perfect holiday should look like, and the other parent does it some other way, it’s hard to let go of the feeling that your child is somehow being deprived of a perfect holiday. As long as “different” isn’t dangerous, you’re going to have to accept that it’s just different. Also, see #1 above, and plan that “perfect” holiday when the child is back with you.

  4. Parenting should not be a competition for who “wins” the child’s affection. Kids have plenty of that for both parents, and both families, and the whole world, in fact. The best way to have a loving relationship with your child is to be a loving parent. One of the ways to sabotage a loving relationship with your child is to run down the other parent, because (a) the child loves that parent, and you’re telling the child that’s wrong; and (b) that other parent is, in a way, half of who your child is, so you’re telling the child that part of your own child is somehow wrong.
  5. Nearly all possession orders in Texas include, somewhere close to the beginning of that section, a sentence that everyone seems to skip or forget about: “IT IS ORDERED that the conservators shall have possession of the child at times mutually agreed to in advance by the parties, and, in the absence of mutual agreement, it is ORDERED that the conservators shall have possession of the child under the specified terms set out in this Possession Order.” In other words, if you and the other parent agree on something, you can share the child in whatever way works for the both of you, regardless of what the orders say. The key words, of course, are “agreed to.” If the two of you can get along well enough to have a birthday party together, wonderful! If one family traditionally opens presents on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas morning, maybe you can agree to exchange the child at, say, 10:00 Christmas morning instead of waiting until noon on December 28 like the orders probably say.

Remember: your child pays a lot more attention to what you DO than to what you SAY. If you’re hoping that your child will learn to be loving, and generous, and forgiving, and thoughtful of others, you have to show them what that looks like, especially when it’s hard to feel like that. We’re attorneys, and we make our living dealing with conflicts that people can’t resolve between themselves. But we’re also people, and parents, and children, and grandparents, and aunts and uncles, and we’d really much rather hear that your child is happy, learning to live in a world where his or her parents aren’t together but are both putting their child’s interest first.

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