When "his," "mine" and "ours" denote the children living in your home, holidays present unique challenges. Remarried ex-spouses, divorcing ex-spouses and a changing round of in-laws and family friends add stress. This is true especially in the case of custodial parents ready to send off their youngsters for a court-mandated holiday celebration elsewhere. Since refusal is not possible, except in cases of provable dangers to the children, complying with holiday visitation orders calls for stamina, tolerance and preparation. Is it possible to send off the children to spend Thanksgiving elsewhere and still enjoy your own holiday? The answer is a resounding "yes" -- if you can anticipate some of the problems before they start.
Accept that which you cannot change
A court order is pretty much set in stone -- until you or your ex file motions to change it. If neither of you have applied to the court for a change to visitation, it is crucial that you accept the status quo. No, you do not have to be happy about it; however, it benefits your personal sanity to accept the reality of a Thanksgiving holiday without your child at home -- and perhaps look forward to a December holiday with the youngster at your house.
Anticipate the child's confusion
Your child may harbor some feelings of anger, bitterness or even hatred toward his non-custodial parent or the parent's new spouse or partner. There may also be issues that the child has not been able to deal with yet in a satisfactory fashion. Do everything you can to not add to the confusion. Do not feel compelled to utter false praise, but at least speak in neutral tones about the non-custodial family.
Highlight positive aspects of the trip whenever possible. Ensure easy access to you at all times with a cell phone you give to the child before leaving. Encourage the child to enjoy the trip, the holiday, the people in the other family, and let her know that you are looking forward to her return home. Do not put the child in a position where she is conflicted with feelings of mixed loyalty, especially if it turns out that she does like her non-custodial parent's new spouse.
Co-exist, don't compete
Do not compare the sizes of Thanksgiving turkeys and the overall spread of food at both venues. Maintain your Thanksgiving traditions that the child has come to love. You might even have a second Thanksgiving celebration -- with all the trimmings -- when the child returns home. Sure, it will be after the actual holiday, but the child will remember the time spent together, not the strict adherence to the calendar.
Up your co-parenting skills
Plan the Thanksgiving holiday visit four to five weeks ahead of time. Know where the child will go, how he gets there and who pays for the transportation. Make the arrangements for the child's return trip to your house with the same care. In all your communications, make every effort to be polite and stay factual. Be especially careful when emailing or texting, since your words may be taken the wrong way. The less you say, the fewer opportunities for misunderstandings exist.
Know that you are the norm, not the exception
The Stepfamily Foundation's statistics show that "over 50% of US families are remarried or re-coupled." In addition, "50% of the 60 million children under the age of 13 are currently living with one biological parent and that parent's current partner." Sending your child off for a holiday visit with the non-custodial parent is common nowadays. While these numbers may not relieve the hole in your heart that develops when your little boy waves goodbye on his trip to dad's house, it does put it into perspective.
Stepfamily Foundation: "Stepfamily Statistics"
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