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‘Tis the Season

Tis the season for:Chapter 23 – Holidays & Vacations


Stop Fighting Over the Kids: Resolving Day-to-Day Custody Conflict in Divorce Situations by: Mike Mastracci

Scheduling holiday and vacation time with the children can be problematic. Resolving these types of issues can be challenging. Really makes you look forward to them, doesn’t it? The holiday drama that can accompany separation and divorce is illustrated in the little story I will share with you from my experience as a Rainbows facilitator many years ago. Rainbows is a world-recognized and proven program to help children recover after experiencing loss. Rainbows recognizes that a child’s grieving process is different from that of an adult’s.

I became involved in Rainbows for a few reasons. Yes, I did want to help others and “give back” to the community, but that wasn’t my main reason. My worries and concerns were more focused on what life was like, and would be like in the years ahead, for my son. His mother and I continued to battle about virtually everything over which there could be the slightest potential for disagreement. In fact, for us, when it came to vacation planning, we could not even agree how many days there are in a week! (I did suggest that there are seven.)

Rainbows helped me to understand how children perceive loss and how to help them get beyond it with a unique approach of play-based activities. Rainbows teaches how to keep misperceptions and sadness from permanently affecting children. The methods focus on age-appropriate, play-based activities, games, and rituals that have proven to be effective. In addition to benefiting the children it serves, Rainbows parents find comfort and encouragement in trying to help their children during a difficult time in their lives.

I enrolled my son in Rainbows throughout kindergarten and first grade. While he participated in his age-appropriate group, I completed the Rainbows training and volunteered to meet with a group of third graders, mainly to try to understand how all of the parental nonsense looked to them. There were many valuable lessons that those wonderful and surprisingly perceptive children taught me. One Rainbows memory that still resonates with me to this day illustrates the reality of perception and also the trouble that children of divorce can have during the holidays. At our first meeting after the Christmas holiday, everyone was anxious to tell the group about their Christmas experiences. I will never forget the response that one adorable little girl gave when I asked her what she remembered most about Christmas. She tilted her head and with an innocent smile she said, “It was great all except the part when Mommy wouldn’t let Daddy see me and the police had to come over and get me.” Before anyone could comment, I suggested that we take a bathroom and water fountain break so that I could dry my eyes in privacy.

Handling holidays in that fashion is obviously a no-no. There is, however, much you can do to ensure your children’s memories of holidays and vacations are good ones. The most basic advice is that when it comes to scheduling holidays and vacations, there needs to be proper planning. As you approach that task, keep in mind that your vacation and holiday time may conflict with the other parent’s similar wants and desires. No surprise, right?

Holiday and Vacation Dos

Make sure that the holiday and vacation “agreements” are in writing whenever possible.

  • Honor any written or verbal agreements.
  • Give as much notice as possible in requesting a deviation from any prearranged plans.
  • Stay focused on the scheduling issue at hand.
  • Take everyone’s work schedules and scheduling restrictions into consideration when trying to draft a holiday or vacation schedule.
  • Make requests, not demands.
  • Say please and thank you.
  • Be flexible if requested to make reasonable accommodations or changes.
  • Be fair.
  • Try to give what you would hope to receive if things were reversed.
  • Provide complete itinerary and contact information to the other parent during any extended stays or out-of-town travel.
  • Make sure that the children call the other parent on holidays when they are with you.
  • Focus your time and energy on how you will spend time with the children when they are with you.
  • Keep a record (for yourself and later on if needed) of all requests that you have made and the results, and all requests the other parent has made and the results.

A Workable Schedule

The objective is to arrive at a written holiday and vacation schedule in an easy-to-follow format so that it can be charted out on your calendar far in advance. Generally, any written agreement or court order should state that the vacation schedule takes precedence over any scheduled holiday as well as the “regular” or primary schedule. Similarly, the holiday schedule overrides the regular schedule.

Make sure that each parent has a complete and full understanding as to what is to take place during any given holiday or vacation period, including beginning and ending times and related transportation issues. Clarify any areas of potential confusion or any possible differing interpretations or understandings as to the dates and times that will deviate from the day-to-day residential schedule.

Perhaps the easiest and fairest way to implement a schedule is an even-odd year approach, with or without a same-day sharing type of schedule. In my experience, parents of younger children usually want to split rather than alternate some holidays.

For example, the Thanksgiving holiday always falls on a Thursday and some parents will break up the day so the children can be with mom for part of the day and with dad for part of it too. From the children’s perspective, two big meals, maybe two sets of extended families, road travel, and all the hustle and bustle may be less appealing than spending all of Thursday and into Friday with one parent this year and that same designated time frame with the other parent the next year. This is especially advantageous if there is likely to be an argument between the parents as to what time the children should arrive, depart, or return.

For children, Christmas can be even worse when parents break up the day. It is like a rollercoaster with highs and lows coming after the other. Imagine the young happy child who gets up and has all sorts of fun enjoying new gifts and now he must rush to leave all of his stuff behind. As parents we want to spend every holiday with our children, but is it really their emotional highs we are concerned about, or our own? We need to let them be children.

If you use an alternating schedule rather than a shared-day schedule, the children can have one continuous holiday without interruptions and hassles. If it is your year to enjoy it with your children, it is all you. It may be better to thoroughly enjoy five of ten Christmases than to have ten broken and hassle-ridden ones. Additionally, children are less concerned with days of the week and dates of holidays. In some households Thanksgiving dinner is served on Wednesday or Friday, and in some neighborhoods Santa comes on December 26, right?

The first step in setting up a schedule that works best for your children is to come to an agreement as to what is a “holiday.” There should be a set list. If it isn’t listed, it isn’t a holiday. If you want grandparents’ day or the dog’s birthday to be a holiday, you need to spell it out. Once you have your list of holidays, you should next define the parameters. For example:

The Thanksgiving holiday will be defined as the period of time beginning at 6:00 p.m. on the night before Thanksgiving (a Wednesday) until 9:00 p.m. Thursday (Thanksgiving). In 2007, 2009, and all years ending in an odd digit, the Thanksgiving holiday will be spent with mom. In 2008, 2010, and all even years the Thanksgiving holiday (the same time period) will be spent with dad.

Scheduling vacation time can be done in a similar fashion. I have seen many written agreements and court orders that seem quite clear, only to be muddied up by parents who can’t agree on anything. For example, let’s suppose that the document states that each parent shall have the minor child for two weeks vacation during the summer. If dad usually only has little Johnny on every other weekend and on Wednesday nights, mom can wipe out a great deal of that father-son time by carefully selecting her “two weeks.” In such a scenario there are two periods in the month when dad goes six days without seeing his child (and more importantly, the child does not get to see his father). If mom “chooses” to start her “two weeks” after she has already had the child for her usual six-day uninterrupted stretch, she can now cause her two week vacation to last twenty straight days. For a father who feels that he already gets less time with his child than he should, this will not be acceptable.

If he were to respond in similar fashion when he takes his two week vacation, he can turn it into seventeen straight days and the end result in each case is that the schedule is thrown out of whack and there can be a high degree of unpredictability throughout the summer. It can turn planning virtually everything else in the summer into a major headache for everyone. By the way, if you ask most people how many days there are in a week, what will they tell you?

One of the key elements that is necessary for any written agreement or court order regarding the allocation of holidays and vacations is to provide as much notice as possible and to provide a concrete and systematic method for providing notice where there are no specified times. Court orders or agreements commonly say that each parent is entitled to two weeks summer vacation. Even when parents do agree that two weeks equals fourteen days, there needs to be a mechanism for each parent to pick their two weeks of summer vacation so that the plans do not overlap and the schedules can be adjusted accordingly in a timely fashion.

One common method is to take an even-odd year approach to the first right of selection by stating, for example, in 2009 and all odd numbered years, mom shall have the first selection of the two-week summer vacation (these weeks may be taken separately or consecutively) by April 1 of each year in writing, along with any known destination and itinerary information. Dad then has until May 1 to respond with his summer vacation plans for the year. In 2010 and all even numbered years dad shall have the first selection of the two week summer vacation (these weeks may be taken separately or consecutively) by April 1 each year in writing along with any known destination and itinerary information. Mom then has until May 1 to respond with her summer vacation plans for the year.

One should also keep in mind that holidays and vacation times are generally special periods of time, and the parent who doesn’t have the children should do their best not to interrupt such quality time. However, the parent who has the children should not be selfish and should still make efforts to ensure parent-child contact and communication.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for family law attorneys to receive phone calls on holidays or during periods of summer vacation because of poor planning or selfish parental interaction. I vividly remember one Christmas morning a few years ago when a hysterical client called me and then followed up with a lengthy email because the children’s mother had the audacity to call her ex husband’s house on Christmas morning at 11 a.m. to see how the children were enjoying the holiday since it was their father’s turn to have them. The father and his new wife saw this act as an overt attempt to ruin their Christmas. The fact that my client and his new wife spent part of their Christmas morning calling me and writing me an e-mail to complain about the children’s mother was absolutely astonishing.

If children in such circumstances are deprived of those special moments, one can only wonder how they feel throughout the rest of the year.

parents fighting




Holiday and Vacation Don’ts

  •  Don’t attach demands and ultimatums to your response to any holiday or vacation requests from the other parent.
  • Don’t unilaterally make changes or make plans that would otherwise encroach on the other parent’s scheduled time with the children.
  •  Don’t call and pester the other parent during holiday or vacation time; you will have your time as well.
  •  Don’t bother rehashing past scheduling problems.
  •  Don’t make smart-ass or sarcastic comments about how you believe the other parent will spend his or her time with or without the children.
  •  Don’t lay guilt trips on the children about missing them, leaving you, or anything like that.
  •  Don’t ruin your children’s holidays and vacations by arguing about them.

For some reason, many parents fail to provide itinerary or contact information when taking their children away for vacation. Here are some typical “reasons” for this lack of courtesy: “It is none of your business”; “He is with me, so don’t worry about it”; “You have my cell number”; “You don’t need the address or phone number, we’ll call you if there is any emergency.”

I once heard a well-respected judge put these issues into proper perspective. The mother of the child at issue in this particular ongoing saga asked why she should have to provide such information to the father when she took young Andrew on vacation, especially when his father never provided her with any such information? The judge’s response was, “Ma’am, because that is what normal decent parents do!”

Be Decent

Coping with divorce can be especially difficult during the holidays. Sadness, anger, and regret may overwhelm you at a time that should be exciting and happy. Memories of happier times emphasize the unwelcome changes divorce brings. You may dread holiday get-togethers that you used to anticipate with pleasure. It’s difficult enough to deal with your own emotions; facing family and friends is often too much to bear. Financial uncertainty may create worry where once you enjoyed being a generous giver.

For children, divorce turns the holidays upside down. They are torn, wanting to be with both parents. They worry that the holidays won’t be the same. Will they see grandma? Will Santa find them? Will they get any presents? They hide their bigger fears about how divorce will change the family behind a litany of fears about holiday activities and traditions.

When it comes to holidays and vacations, it is helpful to remember that there are not enough of them in life. We need to take extra care and attention when we are separated and divorced to have our children enjoy as many holidays and vacations with each parent as possible. Don’t rob your children of opportunities to spend memorable holidays and vacations with their other parent. Be decent. Proper planning and some mature and reasonable behavior can go a long way in accomplishing this goal.


The Child Focused Conflict Resolution Center presents Divorce and Child Custody Seminars and workshops in Glen Burnie, Maryland beginning Thursday October 17, 2013. Visit our site and helpful resources for families in transition!


The Child Focused Conflict Resolution Center
Ending the Madness!
When: The third Thursday of each month from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm (Must register in advance)

Expert Insights: All About Stepmoms with Peggy Nolan of The Stepmom’s Toolbox

by Michelle LaRowe
Editor in Chief                            DWD GUEST BLOGGING

With over half of all marriages ending in divorce and half of all children under the age of 13 living with one biological parent and that parent’s partner, according to, step families are becoming more prevalent and more common. What makes them the same and what makes them different than first or original families? Recently I had a chance to circle around with Peggy Nolan of The Stepmom’s Toolbox to learn about the unique role stepmoms play in today’s families. Here’s a bit of what she had to say.    

eNannySource: What are the three most common myths surrounding the role of a stepmom?

Peggy: The most common mythos surrounding the stepmom role is The Wicked Evil Stepmother, perpetuated in folklore and brought forward into our modern day storytelling by none other than Walt Disney. Stories like Cinderella, Snow White and Hansel and Gretel paint stepmoms as spiteful, greedy, jealous and vain women. Many women in the stepmom role spend a lot of energy dispelling this myth to those in their circle of influence. Another myth is that stepmoms are home wreckers. Modern stories like Stepmom (starring Julia Roberts) and The Other Woman (based on the book Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, starring Natalie Portman) depict the stepmom as a home wrecker. Most stepmoms are kind, loving and caring women who simply find themselves in no man’s land when it comes to being a stepmom. Most stepmoms are not notorious home wreckers. In fact, most women enter into a relationship with a man with kids after he’s divorced. Another common myth is that stepfamilies are just like first families. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Unfortunately, a 1970’s sitcom portrayed a stepfamily as a happy bunch who immediately clicked, rarely argued and all problems were solved in 30 minutes or less. Many new stepfamilies are under the illusion that their family will integrate as soon as the “I do’s” are said. This illusion is in direct conflict with reality. It takes time for stepfamilies to integrate. It also takes the Three P’s – Patience, Persistence and Perspiration.

eNannySource: How do you define the role of a stepmom?

Peggy: I define the role of stepmom as any woman who is in a long-term relationship with a man who has kids from a previous relationship. Women in the role of stepmom are not their stepkids’ mom. A stepmom may do mom things, but this does not make her the mom. Stepmoms are another adult who cares for and loves their partner’s children.

eNannySource: How can step families work to coordinate childcare so it’s seamless?

Peggy: This seems to be one of the trickiest parts of step family dynamics. Even with the best co-parenting, glitches happen. Someone is late for pick up or drop off. Someone forgets it’s his or her weekend to take the kids. In high conflict situations, these glitches can escalate rapidly. If the parents have a difficult time communicating, many times the stepmom will step in and attempt to be the peacemaker and “fix” the problem. This can be risky, as now the stepmom has put herself in the direct line of fire from three different sides – her husband, his ex and the kids. In lieu of good communication between the co-parents, there are tools that stepfamilies can use to coordinate childcare, such as Our Family Wizard or other online calendaring tools.

eNannySource: How long does it take a step family to function as a cohesive family unit? 

Peggy: On average it takes seven years for a step family to integrate. Some may integrate sooner, some later, and some may never integrate. One of the biggest mistakes step families make is to make their stepfamily become a first family. Stepfamilies are not first families in any way, shape or form. Every attempt to make them so is like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. It’s important for stepfamilies to practice becoming a stepfamily: Practice communication, practice relationship investment, practice building trust, practice getting to know each other, and for the couple – practice date night, practice united parenting, practice making your relationship a priority. It takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in anything. And if the average stepfamily integration takes seven years – that’s four hours of stepfamily practice every day for seven years. I did the math. It equals 10,200 hours.


eNannySource: What’s your best advice for new stepmoms?

Peggy: My best advice comes from my wonderful husband. It worked for me and it works for everyone I pass it on to. When I suddenly found myself as a custodial stepmom to my husband’s youngest son, I asked my husband how he wanted me to play the stepmom gig. “Be your wonderful self,” he told me. “You can’t go wrong with that!”

This advice works because it’s simply too exhausting to be anyone else. As the stepmom, you are not the mom. Don’t try to be her. Don’t try to outdo her or be better than her. It’s not a competition, so don’t make it one. Don’t compare yourself to the ex-wife. That will only serve to create jealousy and self-doubt. Just be the wonderful you that you are. Trust me, you’ll do more for your marriage and relationship with your stepkids when you live from your true center.

In the fabulous words of Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

eNannySource: What’s the most common mistakes new stepmoms make? What’s your best advice to combat it?  

Peggy: I believe one of the most common mistakes new stepmoms make is trying to create a first family experience in a stepfamily. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If you keep hammering a square peg into a round hole you’ll remain frustrated. You can try to shave off the ends, but that won’t work for long. Successful stepmoms know that this is a marathon and not a sprint. It takes time to merge households. It takes time to integrate kids from different relationships. It takes time to get on the same page with your partner about parenting, finances, household responsibilities and shared goals.

eNannySource: Anything else you’d like to share?

Peggy: The best thing women in the stepmom role can do for themselves is practice self-care. Too many women run themselves into the ground by trying to be everything to everyone. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest. Eat right. Spend time in silence through mediation or prayer every day. Get at least 30 minutes of physical exercise a day. Pursue a hobby or dream that brings you joy. Focus on your relationship with yourself first. Why? Because we teach others how to treat us by how we treat ourselves. If you want to feel loved and appreciated by your man and those you love, you must love and appreciate yourself. Self-care is as necessary as oxygen!

Peggy Nolan is a leading authority on self-care and personal development for women in the stepmom role.  She has been referred to as the “Self-Care Queen” by her peers and clients because of her strategies to reduce and manage stress work. Peggy has been part of a stepfamily for over 40 years. She knows what it’s like to be a step-daughter, a step-sister and a stepmom. Peggy is the mom of two adult children, the bonus mom of four adult children and the grandmother of two. Peggy’s articles have been featured in The Huffington Post, Divine Caroline, The Diva Toolbox, Applaud Women, Aspire and StepMom Magazine. Peggy has also interviewed numerous leading experts in stepfamilies on her highly acclaimed internet radio show, The Stepmom’s Toolbox Radio Show. You can connect with Peggy at http://thestepmomstoolbox.com and





Guest Post: What Your Child May Be Experiencing During Your Divorce

What Your Child May Be Experiencing during Your Divorce






Divorce is an emotional process. Years of love, matrimony and memories all brushed aside for what are all-too-often heated exchanges where the two protagonists suck in their friends, family and worst of all children. However, once the dust settles and the two parties move on the lingering effects are often forgotten about. Today, in a society where half of all marriages are ending in divorce and around a quarter of all children under the age of 16 are living with a step-parent, it has never been a more important time to consider, understand and ultimately identify the consequences divorces can have on your children. Here’s what you can expect to see.


Children under 10:

Children under 10 years old are, generally speaking, the generation where divorce shows the smallest signs of long-term behavioural change. In fact, for the very young, studies have shown that children who bear no memories of the divorce actually show no emotional changes or connections to the event years later. However, it is worth bearing in mind that because these children possess no memories of the divorce, it is near impossible to accurately judge the effects. Thus far, though, science has determined this age group to be barely phased by the phenomena, but it’s certainly one to keep an eye on as technology improves and the findings get better. As children age, between the ages of 5 and 10, one thing is clear: the child yearns for attention. The reason for this is down to a fear of abandon as the loss of one parent from the solid family unit they have been brought up to love and respect makes them abjectly fear the loss of the other parent. This often comes hand in hand with an unusual sleeping pattern and a noticeable decrease in self-esteem – possibly caused by the assumption that they are the reason the one parent has left. These effects prove to be temporary, though, and there is no immediate cause for alarm if you see your child behaving this way.


Children between the Ages of 10 and 14:

This age bracket will commonly display a more extreme reaction, though very similar to that of their younger counterparts. Often, they will neglect to believe the truth and act out make-believe fantasies where the one parent has not actually left and everything is at it was before the divorce. As they have a much greater understanding of the situation than the generation before them, they will see the changes and be able to consider the contributing factors behind them more deeply. Unfortunately, it is very often the case that because of this they have a heavier assumption that it is their fault and will react with temper-tantrums and sulking. As with children their junior, though, these effects are temporary, and once the new situation (or living arrangements) become the norm, they will revert back to their earlier behaviour.


The Puberty Years:

When children hit puberty, reaching their early teens up until about 16 or 17 the effects divorce can have are some of the most severe. At this age, many would have experienced their first escapades into love themselves and generally have a much deeper understanding of love, marriage and family. Also, as the child is more mature parents more often than not go to them for more comforting than they would their younger counterparts and so the distress their parents are feeling is upfront and blatant. Moreover, statistically, children whose parents have divorced when they are going through puberty are much more likely to engage in sexual activity at a young age and have a markedly increased level of sexual promiscuity. The off-shoot of this sort of activity, combined with the blatant emotional turmoil their parents have displayed can leave a lingering fear of commitment. In the worst cases this can last for years, and it has even been known to reoccur through adulthood in the most severe examples of the phenomenon. Unfortunately, the main cause of this is the fact that witnessing the breakdown of what was the most steadfast and forthright component in the child’s upbringing calls into question their own abilities, and they will inevitably assume that the same unhappy fate awaits them in later life.


Teenagers and Young Adults:

As the age group progresses we see a sudden change in the effects. Unlike the pubescent teenagers beforehand, teenagers between around 16 and 21 will show a marked decrease in their involvement in the process. As they are now old enough to understand more-so the complicated intricacies that constitutes love and life they will understand that they are not to blame. Therefore, their own personal feelings are removed from the equation as they do their best to bolster who they see as the jilted party. Occasionally, aggressive angry outbursts may be experienced, especially to whomever they see as the guilty party, but it has been shown that this often lasts no longer than a few weeks, or months in the worst cases.


Fundamentally, it should always be remembered that divorce effects everyone differently; no matter what the age. This list is just meant as a rough guide to understand how your children may react depending on their age.


This guest post is contributed by David Williamson of Coles Solicitors located in York, UK. He is an experienced legal writer and often likes to write on family law or divorce related topics. You can reach him on twitter.

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