How to Navigate When You Don’t Agree on Holiday Celebrations

Ahh, December. Some may call it the most wonderful time of the year, while others may be the most stressful time. This can be especially true if you’re dealing with a difference of opinion on what to do for the holidays with your children. Now you could be not married, married, or even divorced, and these issues may still arise as you try to figure out what to do with your children during the holidays when you and your partner/spouse/co-parent may disagree.

As I’ve discussed previously, some of the differences may come from couples navigating interfaith holiday celebrations, where you need to discuss and figure out how to handle different faith holiday celebrations. Some years that may be easier than others. I know in years like this one, when Hanukkah is earlier and happens way before Christmas, there is less of an issue of celebrating Christmas with my Husband’s family and not needing to find ways to incorporate both holidays together. However, when Hanukkah and Christmas overlap (as they can since the Jewish calendar doesn’t always coincide with the same days on the secular calendar), then it can be harder to determine how to have both celebrations.

As Always Communication is Key

Now the most important thing I’ll say, which comes up in just about every article we write, is that communication is key. If you’re not communicating with the other person about how you feel and what you want to do, then how are they supposed to know what you want for you and your children over the holidays. So, if you haven’t communicated your wishes to them, you need to do that first. And even if you think you’ve expressed it to them clearly and they don’t seem to understand, then you haven’t been clear about it, at least in a way that they know.

Communication is all about both parties being able to understand the message, and just because you understand what you’re saying doesn’t mean the other person does as well. So, if it’s important to you to have a part of the holidays be your nuclear family and you feel that in an extended family is hijacking, you communicate it to your partner or spouse, so they know clearly what you want.

It can be helpful to plan a time to talk to just the two of you about what you each want to do for the holidays this year so you can get it out on the table without anyone else’s opinions. I would say that earlier is always better since people may have already begun to make plans as you get closer to the holidays. You may feel it’s harder to get out of previously agreed-upon events or travel, but it’s never too late to start having the conversation. If some things can’t be changed this year, you can even begin the discussion now of how next year could look different and make sure that you sit down to talk before agreeing to any plans the following year.

Share Not Just What You Want to do but Also Why

Just like in mediation, when we focus on interest-based negotiating and not position-based, it’s just as important to share with your partner or spouse not just what you want to do but why you want to do that and what is essential to you. Often there are ways to reach a resolution that will consider both sides’ interests, but you can’t get there if you’re both stuck in your position of I want this specific day with the children and my family. If you explore why that day is important to you and what you want to happen, you’ll be ready for the next step.

Then Explore Ways to Compromise

Once you have shared with each what your ideal holiday season would look like, and if they don’t entirely match up, as they probably won’t, then it’s time to discuss ways to compromise. Now both of you need to realize that this compromise will only work if you both compromise and won’t if one person feels that they are the only one doing so. Maybe it’s important to you to have time to celebrate individually with each set of grandparents and to allow for the traditions that each family must stand alone.

So, a compromise may be that you’re going to have your family come in before Christmas and celebrate with them early this year. Especially when children are young, they won’t necessarily care or even know if they get two Christmases, even if one happens before the 25th. This can allow you to celebrate your traditions with your family and then allow you guys to celebrate your spouse’s traditions with their family without feeling like one family gets it all. And maybe you agree that next year you switch, and you do their family early and yours on the day.

There are many ways to compromise and come up with a solution that works for both parties so long as you both feel that you gave on something. I talk about how vital compromise is in mediation often because if each party digs their heels in and says it’s my way or the highway, then no resolution can be reached without compromise. Coming to a compromise will ultimately mean that neither party may feel that they got 100% of what they thought they’d get at the beginning. Still, if you’ve both been very clear about your interests, then you may both be able to walk away happy with your arrangement for this year.

Now working towards a compromise and handling the above steps isn’t always easy on your own and can be much harder to reach a compromise when you’re in the thick of it with your partner or spouse. Having a neutral third party to assist you in the conversations will make everything move a lot smoother.

Need to talk it out? Contact West Coast Family Mediation Center at (858) 736-2411 to schedule a free virtual consultation with one of our mediators.

by: Amanda Singer

Amanda Singer with west coast family mediation center

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