Q: My ex and I do not have a formal holiday schedule because we both followed a religion that did not celebrate holidays. Our children have been brought up that way. Over the last year I have met and married someone who does not necessarily follow any religion but makes a huge deal out of Thanksgiving. Her family approaches it more as a family get together and it’s a very festive time. My children’s mom is adamant that we continue to approach holidays as we always did and will not allow the children to come with me to my in-law’s home, even though the parenting plan clearly designates this Wednesday through Sunday is with me. The kids are excited and really want to go. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Well, of course the kids want to go to a festive celebration, especially if they are not used to it. It’s something new and exciting. And it is also understandable if mom is upset, but I’m not sure the courts would see it as she does. Let me explain…
The faith in which you bring up your children is one of those "musts" that should be discussed between couples well in advance of having children, but few know how to approach the subject if parents break-up and one changes their choice down the road. Morally, an agreement is an agreement, but when you are talking about religion and the center of one’s faith, those in the position of changing their minds often believe they have now seen the light and have the right to change their mind and share this new philosophy with their children. Since freedom of religion is a basic right in this country, whether this is right or wrong is not in question. The decision I have most often seen in court is that both parents are told they can take their child to the religion they follow when the child is designated to be with them. I’m not saying this is the only ruling that will ever be made. I am saying that this is what I have seen most often.
That said, even if your children’s mother doesn’t agree to the children attending, withholding the children is not the answer. You have a court order that states the children are to be with you. Parents can’t withhold the children based on a whim. If she believed the children were unsafe, she might be able to call on law enforcement to intercede, but the police showing up on Thanksgiving Day to stop the other parent’s time with the children is a questionable tactic in itself.
The one thing I can add is even if you don’t agree with the other parent’s faith, in the name of your children, do not bad-mouth mom or dad or their faith. It will confuse the kids, put them right in the middle, and it often backfires.
Your children watch the way you lead your life and see your happiness or unhappiness in your choices. It's not about dictating your beliefs, but about setting an example that your children will choose to follow because you have been such a good role model. That’s good ex-etiquette.
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