Save the Holiday Drama for Your Mama

  1. Child Custody
  2. Save the Holiday Drama for Your Mama
sad woman sitting on sofa looking a cell phone

Ex-It Strategy
Podcast 25

Elizabeth Stephenson, Sarah Hink, Jen Bordeaux, Chris Hicks


Elizabeth: Hi everyone. It’s Elizabeth Stephenson with New Direction Family Law

Sarah: and I’m Sarah Hink, here with Elizabeth, we’re the partners and the couple of the many attorneys we got over there these days and…

Elizabeth: Yeah and attorneys are coming out of the woodwork with us. What’s up?

Sarah: I don’t know.

Elizabeth: We got lots of clients. There’s a lot going on.

Sarah: Yeah. They haven’t been listening to this,

Elizabeth: but we’re getting close to the holidays

Sarah: Yeah today is November 2nd, that we’re recording this, and it’s a couple of days after Halloween…

Elizabeth: Yes that’s over.

Sarah: So that means we have to like the slew of holidays, right? The people who love Christmas are already singing Mariah Carey.

Elizabeth: Have you seen her commercial has come out

Sarah: With the pumpkin.

Elizabeth: Oh my God it’s hysterical.

Sarah: No I haven’t.  I’ll have to Google it later.

Elizabeth: This is very cute. Yeah.

Sarah: With holidays comes drama

Elizabeth: Drama and lots of drama. OK, so this is our busy season.

Sarah: Yes. So today’s episode is it’s do’s and don’ts of the holidays. And just giving you some advice, whether it’s marital advice, I’m sure we have great things there. Custody advice, all sorts of topics that we’ve learned and discussed by practicing our family law.

Elizabeth: Gosh, for 30, what are we together? 30 years, practicing.

Sarah: Almost 40.

Elizabeth: 40! 47?

Sarah: 47. You’re 21… that aging ourselves!

Elizabeth: As I speak I’m getting older!

Sarah: If you listened to our last episode you’ll remember that Elizabeth did not exchange our child together for the holiday!

Elizabeth: Pissed off about that. So I’ll have to fix that!

Sarah: Let’s just start with, in general, custody issues over the holidays. So we’re looking at Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, but there’s holidays all year.

Elizabeth: So mainly it’s somebody is not happy or somebody doesn’t want to exchange or can I just keep them, an extra hour or so, or no, you’re not coming to get them.

Sarah: Right and especially if you break up or separate right before the holidays because there is no defined plan yet. And I’m sure it’s really hard for you to think, okay, this is the first Thanksgiving or Christmas without my child. And I’m sure that’s so hard.

Elizabeth: I can tell you from experience that it’s hard as hell. But you got to do it.

Sarah: Right you have this child  together, and now you’re separating. Some people want to celebrate the holidays together.

Elizabeth: I still did it so funny. It’s like I’ve been divorced and separated for 17 years. And we still do Thanksgiving together. We still do Christmas morning together. We didn’t start out that way. It took us about 10 years to get there, but we’re, that’s just odd. A lot of people don’t do that.

Sarah: But some do, and I would say don’t force it.

Elizabeth: No, no, It’s not my favorite thing, but it makes my child happy, and he likes to see us all together and that’s what we do.

Sarah: Yeah. And so I encourage people, one of the do’s of the holidays, when you’re first separated is creating new traditions. I’m sure that the child is going to miss both parents there but think of something fun to do and start that tradition going forward. And that way they look forward to doing this with you every Christmas, even if it’s not on Christmas day, making sure you put out some hay for the reindeer that are going to come, go find a Christmas tree together.

Elizabeth: Yeah, maybe with the train. I can’t remember now.

Sarah: Polar Express.

Elizabeth: Yeah. John Thornton and I, we would go, we always went to church early, and then we would have dinner and then we would always turn off the lights on the Christmas tree and get the fire and watch polar express and eat popcorn.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. So we create a new tradition for what is the new dynamic in your relationship and your  family.

Elizabeth: And so most people like us, our schedule was, it’s Christmas Eve and you have them even years and dad has them odd years. So you gotta figure out something…and people don’t think about this. I had to find my own ritual for the year he wasn’t with me on Christmas Eve. That’s a big thing.

Sarah: So the first holiday, the big holidays where you don’t have custody and you don’t have your kids around, you got to take care of yourself, make sure you spend time with other family members or friends or create your own traditions,

Elizabeth: Right. Or go take a weekend trip to Biltmore, or the mountains or something, and you got to get your mind off of it. Because you’re going to get him back at Christmas and you don’t, you got to put on a happy face.

Sarah: Typically one parent will have the Thanksgiving holiday and then the next one will have the Christmas holiday. Or some people decide to split the day, which I always make them really think about.

Elizabeth: That’s so hard on children. We used to split Thanksgiving and it was hard.

Sarah: Yeah. You think that they would want to see both parents on the day, but it’s not about necessarily that day. It’s the events and the people that come with that holiday,

Elizabeth: Well you get two Christmases, you get two turkeys.

Sarah: Yeah. Just make it work. And, think about if you want to travel and see family, say your family is in Wisconsin, that’s not going to work out really.

Elizabeth: And that’s one of the questions you ask as you’re putting this together, so you ask what’s important to you and where’s your family. Do you have to travel? So a lot of people will say you have Christmas Eve until 1:00 PM on Christmas day, and then you have…that doesn’t work if you’re trapped and your family lives in Georgia or Alabama or whatever, y’all need. When you have them you need bigger chunks of time.

Sarah: Right

Elizabeth: So think that through as you’re thinking about the schedule.

Sarah: Exactly. And also, some relationships and marriages are from two different religions. So that kind of works out nicely when you’re thinking of Hanukkah and Christmas because rarely do they overlap.

Elizabeth: But think about it though. Sometimes they do.

Sarah: Sometimes they do. So you always have to think about the scenarios. So what if this does happen? And it’s the same with Easter and spring break. And so you need to say a provision in there that covers what happens when they do overlap.

Elizabeth: Right. And I think people sometimes think that we’re like, you’re so depressed about all that, but it’s not our job to be negative. But it’s our job to look at this contract or this court order or whatever. And punch holes in it and do the what-ifs well, what if this happened? What would you do? So you gotta take ten steps down to make sure that we’ve covered as much as…

Sarah: And that comes with our experience, knowing what prior clients have fought about and run into issues when planning for the holidays.

Elizabeth: Right.

Sarah: So I always make sure to cover those little caveats of what would happen if the calendar just doesn’t line up.

Elizabeth:  And a lot of times they’ll go, especially if they’re not school age, it’s a little easier, but when they get school aged, it sort of wraps around the school calendar of how the holiday schedule will work and some will be on a traditional and then you have a problem. You’ve got middle schoolers and elementary in year-round and then the high schoolers…and that’s where you have to think about things too because we’ll put in, some times, here’s what the schedule is going to be. The children are in year-round school, but we didn’t go another step further and say. And when they go to high school and are in a traditional schedule, this is what it would be.

Sarah: It is. And some people, they want to put every single holiday into their court order or parenting agreement and the other parents like I don’t think we need to dictate who the kids with on Halloween or exchange every labor day or birthday…

Elizabeth: Their birthday…and be with me on my birthday.

Sarah: Yes.

Elizabeth: Yeah I don’t think that’s appropriate, but that.

Sarah: Yeah. If you guys agree on it, then whatever, I’ll put it in there, sometimes you just gotta let it fall where it falls.

Elizabeth: It’s just okay, and it’s the child’s birthday. That’s, that’s hard. But you want to be with them. But again, I’ll just celebrate with you the next weekend after your birthday. And I don’t care. It’s all about you. It’s not about the kids.

Sarah: Yeah. I would hate to miss Halloween. I love Halloween, but maybe you can trick or treat together if you can work together or you just take turns.

Elizabeth: That’s it generally,  it’s going to be falls on you, but the problem is if you look at the calendar, I didn’t realize this when I started practicing, generally the holidays will fall on the same parents time each year, you gotta make sure, go through the calendar,

Sarah: Yeah but if it means something to you, like my parenting agreement would cover Halloween.

Elizabeth: Mine wouldn’t, I wouldn’t give a shit, but…

Sarah: I’m going to take Elizabeth’s…

Elizabeth: Only if you give me Christmas. There’s some weird…people have different, you got to think about some people like, Monday holidays, July 4th, like I would always want July 4th because I’m always at the beach and we go to the beach every July 4th.

Sarah: Yeah, you just have to think about what’s important to you, what traditions you want to have going forward. Sometimes I have clients who have family reunions that they’re still doing and are still big events. And the other parent will be like, yeah, you know what? That is a big event. I’m going to let them always have this weekend for this family reunion. And that’s good. Do that if you’re the other parent let that happen.

Elizabeth: And this isn’t necessarily a holiday, but sometimes you put in provisions about family events or big events or life-changing events like, dad’s getting married or a parent gets married, and sometimes that’s not your weekend and they’re not going. Please don’t do that. Please don’t do that. Let them go.

Sarah: You want the wedding to be ruined completely

Elizabeth: Because they’re not there. But sometimes people I mean, put that in there just to head it off.

Sarah: And be like, okay, little Johnny go be the ring bearer. But when you’re walking down the aisle, just make sure that you just knock everyone over. Don’t do that either, but that’d be fun.

Elizabeth: Right. I have a case where their parents live in Florida and New York. And mama’s decided that you know, you can’t fly. You have to drive and you have to tell me who’s driving with. What kind of car you’re driving. It’s like one, that’s none of your business, so travel is a thing over holidays and just assume that they’re doing the right thing. I’m not going to put that minutia for the most part, in an agreement. And the court is not going to.

Sarah: You got to trust each other. Yep. And some other do’s and don’ts about the holidays. And we have other issues that come up besides kids, or even with kids is don’t drink too much if you’re going to be with your kid. And there might be other people around to testify about that.

Elizabeth: So if you get New Year’s Eve…every other weekend, go out and do, or every other year, go do what you want to do on your own. Don’t do it on your weekend and go do it first, the first night or whatever it is.

Sarah: Yeah. And then also, if you’re just going through the emotions and the feelings, say that you don’t have your child on the holiday and you down that bottle or five or court of wine, then don’t go call on your ex, please don’t.

Elizabeth: Please don’t and don’t text him. Don’t Facebook your friends. Don’t do any of that.

Sarah: I know you want to.

Elizabeth: And some do it. What’d you just say? Was it in the last episode?  Buy your friends, text your ex in a nice way.

Sarah: I think, definitely, don’t leave any mean voicemail. Don’t do that.

Elizabeth: Don’t do that. Don’t do that. And don’t call your child on New Year, on Christmas Eve. Oh, I missed you. Wish you were here. Look what I got you. Don’t do that.

Sarah: We’re giving you some bad advice here. Really compartmentalized those feelings.

Elizabeth: Compartmentalize!

Sarah: Classify them into different departments and compartmentalize them.

Elizabeth: Or three. As long as you’re ready?

Sarah: Yeah. So your sexy feelings put them over there. Yeah. But your feelings like through the holidays are valid and we have to be, I, I love the song blue Christmas. We’re talking about what our favorite Christmas songs…

Elizabeth: What is Blue Christmas?

Sarah: Blue Christmas by Elvis. Are you kidding me?

Elizabeth: I don’t know that.

Sarah: I’ll have…I’m not going to sing it on here. It’s a blue Christmas without you.

Elizabeth: A blue blue blue Christmas…

Sarah: You guys didn’t know this is a karaoke podcast! Yeah. Those feelings are valid, whether you’re single you’re divorce, separated…

Elizabeth:  Oh yeah absolutely, but you gotta keep him in check for sure. So a therapist over the holidays…

Sarah: Take care of yourself, self care, take hot baths. But, especially if you’re going through the separation process and there’s litigation even more so watch yourself and don’t do anything that is caused by your emotions at the time to blow up everything.

Elizabeth: Remember too kids get overwhelmed and overworked and they’re stressed and they’re wound up, which even makes it harder to keep it all together.

Sarah: Like for some people the holidays are the best,happiest times. Other people it’s the most depressing.

Elizabeth: And so that’s why sometimes they cling to their children to make that up, to find another outlet for it.

Sarah: Yes, definitely. Some advice I thought of is if you’re in a marriage you’re not separated yet. Don’t go by your girlfriend or boyfriend Christmas gifts that the other person’s gonna find or

Elizabeth: Don’t get her a dog!

Sarah:  First of all, don’t cheat.

Elizabeth: Good advice to say. It’s OK to buy it…

Sarah: It’s okay to cheat, wait until after the holidays.  Buy her a gift…

Elizabeth: Don’t let your wife find out.

Sarah: I was just going to say use cash.

Jen: Sarah’s very realistic and pragmatic

Chris: Or Bitcoin. It’s a new era.

Sarah: That’s true. That’s true. You got plenty of money. The one Bitcoin, these days it’s like 60 thousand dollars,

Elizabeth: Even if it’s your first year and you have a significant other, I would say, take a breath, and don’t bring that, you can spend all the first holiday with that person but let it be about your child, and making them feel comfortable and secure the first go round.

Sarah: There are some dummies out there. Like I’ll be my client sometimes too. And I’ll, we look at their financials. And my client will be like, he bought something from Bailey’s Jewelry and I didn’t get that present, who is he buying it for, and I’d be like, oh, that guy’s a dumb, got you there. And there’s spousal support involved, and they’re going to say, okay, you’ve been spending money on your girlfriend. He could be giving it to your wife.

Elizabeth: But let’s separate those issues out from, you know, the holidays.

Sarah: And I’m  just saying, if it’s the holidays, use cash, if you have to do it or just don’t do it, wait until you’re separated

Elizabeth: Well talking about cash and don’t buy your kids. Dad gets you a pony and I don’t have the money to do that, so I have to…just be mindful and kind is what I can say.

Sarah: Yeah. We’d love for you to be kind. That’s not very realistic. Is it Jen?

Jen: No.

Elizabeth: So we just gotta, how old were you when your parents were divorced when you, when did they separate?

Jen: I was seven.

Elizabeth: So what were your holidays like?

Jen: My dad moved up to Connecticut, so my mom pretty much got everything. He would come down here every so often, but it was inconsistent, inconsistent at best, but he would always send gifts or, or whatever, but it, that was the thing, like he still does it now with my nephew. Like he comes down and he just buys the toys, obviously  trying to…

Elizabeth: Yeah. But you got to keep, keep your tradition.

Jen: Yeah me and my brother were mostly with my mom, but then, we had, bringing in bonus parents. So I felt like being remarried or whatnot that obviously then he brought his own family traditions that he wanted to, at first it was like rocking the boat for me, but now I love it, and we established our new ones and everything.

Sarah: And change takes time for people to adapt and just be careful going through the holidays and recognizing that for your kids , you’re gonna, one thing to think about too, is your extended family coming over and they just bash your ex in front of your kids.

Elizabeth: That’s a good point.

Sarah: Don’t let that happen.

Elizabeth: Have a conversation about that first…

Sarah: Beforehand.

Elizabeth: And if it happens don’t participate.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. Just pull them aside, mother, we talked about this…

Elizabeth: That brings up the separation agreement. We put in, don’t disparage, talk bad and even third-parties within earshot of their child. So just be mindful of that.

Sarah: I can’t imagine if I went through a separation and I had a child, my mom, she’d bashed him right away, which is looking out for her kid. And I’d be like, I would have really have to tell her not to, if you don’t think about that in your friends and anyone else that comes over for the holidays and don’t let that ruin your holiday too, because they don’t have to live that life. They get to come and bash your ex and then leaving to go their happy home or whatever.

Elizabeth: Then you’re all drunk and you start texting and it’s just the bad cycle.

Jen: And you’re drunk on Thanksgiving and you’re texting your friends to start digging up dirt that you’ve just started to discover in your own personal situation, but it’s fine, but don’t do that.

Elizabeth: It’s fine. Call them, don’t text them! Dig up dirt. That’s cool. But just do it on the sly.

Jen: And I’ll say, alcohol obviously exacerbates whatever emotion that you’re feeling. So having been there wholeheartedly over the holidays. It’s more acceptable…

Elizabeth:  …to imbibe over the holidays. I think of it…

Jen: Yeah but you’re also, if you’re in a negative space mentally, emotionally, and you start drinking, that’s going to make it worse. So if you could really, and it’s hard. We’re sitting here talking about it saying it, but it is so much harder to do than Tinder practice. But if you really can try to shift focus and just say, you know what, we’re just not going to talk about this situation. If you’re newly separated or maybe it is your first holiday without your kids, focus on what you do still have on that day. You still got other people that you’re spending time with, or the opportunity to renew some things for yourself or whatever it is to really try to do that. And sometimes alcohol doesn’t help them in accomplishing that.

Elizabeth: But sometimes it does

Jen: And sometimes it’s absolutely needed.

Sarah: And if you don’t have your children and maybe, some people don’t have extended family, like I just have my parents, we don’t really ever see our extended family. Go to the Caribbean for Christmas. If you can afford it, if you sold the house or something, go on vacation, go to New York and see the tree, the big one. Rockefeller Center? Yes. Thank you.

Elizabeth: No, I’ve never traveled  by myself really. I guess that would be really depressing. Cause, cause you’re out at Rockefeller Center and all these couples are ice skating and falling and drinking. That’s when I’m calling you to come get me out of jail!

Sarah: You ice skate to someone, you fall down and he picks you up and it’s just like a Rothschild.

Elizabeth: God, a Hallmark, but it doesn’t work that way. It might be good. Watch Hallmark movies.

Sarah: That one’s tough.

Elizabeth: I’ve watched one in my whole life.

Sarah: I think the point of this is people, celebrate and grieve and they do things for themselves in different ways. So you just find what works for you and you go and do that. Whether that is watching lots of Hallmark movies or going on a vacation.

Elizabeth: I think the overarching thing is if there are kids involved, just take care of yourself, but your main focus is to take care of them. Yeah. And keep them safe and be mindful, as best you can.

Sarah: Yeah and let them have their holiday and…

Elizabeth: If they’re gonna, like elephants, I remember everything.

Sarah: Yeah. Just like Jen can recall how her holidays were and can look back at it now as an adult and see things for what they are. I tell a lot of my clients that you’re your child’s going to grow up and think..they’re smart. They’re going to realize why things were the way they were. And don’t stress so much about it because you can’t change it.

Elizabeth: Great advice, but it’s, but having lived it, it’s really hard. As the years go on, you finally it’ll click and you’ll get it.

Sarah: Yeah. I found out fresh market yesterday, they sell precooked turkeys. Go get yourself a pre-cooked turkey for Thanksgiving, whether you’re going to have your family and your children over or not make your life easier. Think about things in advance and how you can coordinate things, not just for yourself, but for your children.

Elizabeth: And make rituals, think about it now, there are all sorts of creative ways to do that.

Sarah: Yes. That’s it. That’s all the advice we have. We’ve run out of holidays. We were talking about our favorite Christmas carols before. So find those, put them on

Elizabeth: Yeah good dance, good dance party.

Jen: Put your Christmas decorations up early on like on Thanksgiving, if you’re by yourself or something.

Elizabeth: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one ritual that I, call him my Christmas tree whisperer, because he could go to any lot and buy the most beautiful tree 15 years later, that’s what we all get excited about the day after Thanksgiving. There’s just something stupid and little like that. I love it. I didn’t have to be  lavish

Sarah: No it doesn’t. It’s all about…

Elizabeth: I think making memories is what it’s all about.

Jen: I will say for me personally, having been separated, divorced now for a couple of years for the holidays, the last two years, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I’ve been down at the beach for a week by myself and it is glorious.  It’s not super busy, but now it’s, I was like what do you do when you’re down there? And I’m like, whatever the hell I want!

Sarah: And that’s another thing for our married listeners that if you have both sides and it’s so crazy having to please all your extended family, just say no, Don’t do it.bJust take some time for yourself, spend it with your spouse. And you guys just have boundaries with these extended families that make you feel guilty about not showing up or whatever you’re doing

Jen: Traveling a lot around the place. Yeah. That’s a lot.

Elizabeth: That’s a lot. I agree. Yeah, it brings, it makes it more stressful.

Chris: That’s why that Four Christmases movie is so funny, we’ve all been there. Have you seen that a little with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn and they do, they decided that they’re not doing any of the family stuff and they’re going to go to Bora or somewhere Tahiti, but they get caught on the news because there’s a storm comes in and they see the family sees them on the news and they end up having to go to every Christmas.

Sarah: Yeah. I will lose my mind. We went to the Dominican Republic once when I was younger. I really, yeah, it’s a family, just my parents, my sister.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I would so love to do that. Yeah sign me up I’m down.

Jen: You want to go this year?

Elizabeth: Absolutely!

Sarah: Yeah. If you’re in your feelings, watch the alcohol. Don’t drink and drive around the holidays. They’re looking for you.

Elizabeth: Don’t do that anytime.

Sarah: Oh like my advice with the gifts, don’t get caught and just getting don’t ever do it.

Elizabeth: No, that’s good advice. Don’t get caught if you’re doing it. Don’t get caught

Sarah: Back to it. Also, I just want to mention last month, October was domestic violence month and there is an uptick in domestic violence around the holidays. If you’re in a relationship that is, has domestic violence in it, whether it’s physical or. Maybe it’s time for you to consider your plans for the holidays, making sure you’re in a safe location and surrounded by other people.

Elizabeth: Right. And that brings up something…maybe going a little long, but a lot of people will come see us maybe in August or September and . And a lot of people just want to get through the holidays, and I understand that and that’s fine. And then we get an uptick in January, but again, like you said, and especially if it’s an, a relationship that you feel like isn’t going to work or is ending, it could be more stressful during that time.

Sarah: So take some money out of the account and go ahead and plan your secret trip to the Caribbean and peace out.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Jen: But do you take the kids with you in that incident now?

Elizabeth: No!

Sarah: Depends on how much you like them!

Elizabeth: Maybe leave them with grandma!

Jen: Yeah. Anyways, I hope everyone has a happy holiday season.


Previous Post
7 Common Child Custody Mistakes to Avoid After Divorce
Next Post
Top 7 Signs You Need to Hire a Divorce Lawyer