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Holidays and Shared Custody Schedules for Young Children

Updated on January 3, 2012

A shared custody schedule outlines which parent your children will reside with on any given day. While school and work schedules help determine a normal weekly custody schedule­­­, ­­­­things can become quite complicated when you start to factor in holidays and vacations. Both are important to children and parents in creating memories and strengthening bonds.

Holidays can be one of the most debated aspects of creating a shared custody schedule for young children, Take a flexible and positive approach to the way you and the other parent incorporate holidays into your custody schedule so you can keep the experiences enjoyable for everyone.

Schedules for the holidays should be age appropriate for your children.
Schedules for the holidays should be age appropriate for your children. | Source

Holidays Take Priority

Holiday schedules should have priority over any regular parenting schedule. You and the other parent must first identify the major holidays in the calendar year. Don’t forget civil holidays that often take place on Mondays. Include any holidays that are particular to your religion as well.

Many parents include school holidays in the overall list of holidays, unless you are only working on a shared custody schedule for toddlers or infants. School holidays include spring break, winter break and teacher preparation days because they are regularly scheduled annual days off of school.

Even though a holiday is a special time, do not make plans for your children that exceed their capacity to handle. For example, toddlers and preschoolers don't do well when they are away from the primary caregiver for more than a day or two. Teens may not want to be away from their school friends during some celebrations, like a Halloween dance or New Year's Eve party. You and the other parent must make allowances for what is best for your children when making holiday schedules.

Quality Not Quantity

When you and the other parent are making decisions about how your young children will spend the holidays, consider how prior traditions factor into their enjoyment level. Make a special effort to continue the traditions from past holidays, especially to show your children what is important to your family identity.

Take cues from older children and teens about how they might like to spend the holidays and what aspects are most important to them. Younger children will be most comfortable with some kind of continuation of what is familiar to them from past celebrations. Above all, plan for quality time together with meaningful interactions rather than spend the holiday tense, resentful and stressed. When parents are relaxed and upbeat, the children will respond accordingly.

Ideas for Shared Holidays

You might want to sort the holidays into two groups, and then alternate the groups every year. In other words, one parent would have the children for the first group of holidays in even years, then the second group of holidays in the odd years.

If you want to establish certain traditions from year to year, consider selecting certain holidays where the children spend a specific holiday with the same parent year after year. One example of this would be to have the children always spend the Fourth of July with one parent and Halloween with the other parent. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day should always be celebrated with the honored parent.

Tips for Holiday Exchanges

  • Always communicate with all members of the family so everyone knows what to expect.
  • Specify reasonable start and end times for each holiday, especially if the children have school the following day.
  • Make the most of the time you have with your children to create special memories and build traditions.
  • Keep exchanges peaceful and avoid any tension with the other parent.
  • Be flexible with any exceptions to the schedule if it is in the best interest of your children.
  • Always refer to your shared custody schedule for young children if there are any questions about holiday schedules.

Custody X Change software can help you create a workable shared custody schedule that allows you to factor in holiday time. You can print out a color-coded calendar or upload it to your mobile devices for easy access.


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    • Nancy Owens profile image

      Nancy Owens 6 years ago from USA

      Great information for parents sharing custody. I like that you stress communication and flexibility. Voted up and useful.