He Said/She Said: Halloween

10/24/2011 11:48 am ET | Updated Dec 24, 2011

He said, "I see that Halloween is on my day this year, so I will take care of everything, including taking the kids trick or treating."

She said, "What? I've already made their costumes. I have plans to take them out trick or treating with their friends in my neighborhood."

He said, "Look at the schedule, Monday the 31st is my day."

Are the children of these parents going to enjoy Halloween this year?

Often times agreements about Halloween do not find their way into parenting plans and yet parents are faced with the task of figuring out how to handle this very American tradition celebrated in most households. In fact, many schools have some sort of Halloween celebration during the school day and thus it is impossible for children not to get caught up in the excitement. If not handled properly, this holiday can put children in the middle of a major parenting conflict.

It's important to recognize how Halloween has been handled during the marriage and the different ways in which Moms and Dads have approached it. During the marriage there probably were clearly defined roles regarding what Mom and Dad each did. If there have been any clear role distinctions in your family, it is important to acknowledge them and then discuss how you will handle them going forward. A clear plan between Mom and Dad will be reassuring to your children and allow them to enjoy this special holiday. Every effort should be made to ensure that Halloween is as seamless as possible for your children.

If not spelled out in your parenting plan, it is important to recognize that Halloween is a holiday with many implicit traditions and should be treated with importance and sensitivity to the needs of your children. This day is not like any other day.

Parents need to plan for a smooth Halloween weeks ahead of time. In whatever form of communication you engage (i.e. phone, email, text, Family Wizard), parents need to decide who will be in charge of costumes, who will buy the candy for the trick or treaters (if this responsibility is to be shared), who will get the children ready, who will take the children trick or treating, whose house the children stay at that night and how the children's candy will be distributed after trick or treating. These tasks can be divided between both parents regardless of which parent has the children on Halloween night.

Some possible solutions:

  • Parents could respect existing traditions and how these tasks were divided in prior years, continuing to honor them going forward.
  • Parents can determine respective strengths and divide the above tasks based on strengths and/or be willing to help each other develop new roles and strengths.
  • Parents can take turns being responsible for each of the above tasks in odd and even years.
  • Sharing and/or dividing all of the above responsibilities, including trick or treating together, regardless of who the children are spending the night with. Make sure that both of you treat each other with respect so that you are not creating inadvertent friction for your children. (We don't recommend taking the children trick or treating at separate times during the same evening. This only reminds your children that there is a conflict between you and their other parent, and takes away from their enjoyment of this exciting time.)
  • Halloween treats usually last longer than the day itself -- be sure to have a plan for distributing the candy to both parents' homes so that your children have enough treats with them as they move between homes.

Be mindful that roles and responsibilities have changed as households have expanded. Remember that Halloween is about your children and that they need this to be an enjoyable experience. Sometimes this might mean compromise from both parents.

This article was written collaboratively by Kim Davidson, JD, Jane Euler, JD, Rob Rutman, Ph.D. and Susan F. Schwartz, LCSW