Ten Tips for Holiday Co-Parenting

Holiday Co-Parenting

For newly-separated or divorced parents, the holidays can be especially tough.  For kids with two households, this time of year means lots of shuffling back and forth, possibly feeling torn between parents, extended families, and old traditions.  Adjusting to life after separation takes its toll on everyone around the holidays:  kids, parents, grandparents, in-laws, and friends.  Here are some ideas to make the holidays easier for you and your kids after separating:

  1. Start your planning for the season by rereading your parenting or custody agreement — what do its provisions on holiday scheduling say?  Who is scheduled to have the children and when this year?  Whether it is very specific or leaves some room for compromise, know what the agreement says, because it is your fallback if you and your ex disagree about the holiday schedule.
  2. Accept that your request to change the arrangements in the custody agreement is just that — a request.  Be prepared for the other parent to say “no” if your plans don’t fit with their scheduled time.  Compromise is great, but each parent is within his or her rights to make plans and stick to them for their scheduled parenting time.  Don’t punish each other for making holiday plans and wanting to keep them.
  3. Schedule a time to discuss each parent’s holiday priorities calmly and without the children around.  Think about what events are most important to you (and the kids) and talk calmly with your ex about how you can coordinate the schedule to make as many of those important events as possible happen this year.  Again, be prepared to give as much consideration as you get.  While you’re talking, go ahead and coordinate on the kids’ Christmas lists too — who will give what to whom?
  4. Compromise is the name of the game in co-parenting generally, and particularly during the holidays.  This time of year is all about family togetherness, and that can get very sticky when children now have two families.  The most constructive solution is to remember to make the children the focus and show them how you and your ex can work together to make sure that everyone still has a good time.
  5. Don’t negotiate the schedule in front of the kids.  Particularly if the separation is new, parents can easily get emotional and territorial about sharing the children this time of year.  It’s hard on kids too, so make it easier by shielding them from the discussion.  Work out the schedule between the two of you (and your significant others, if applicable), and present a united front to the children about the holiday schedule.
  6. You are the parents, you determine the schedule.  Don’t ask your children to choose which house or family they prefer on certain days — that puts them in the middle and tests their loyalty to each side of the family.  You know your kids and which events mean the most to them.  Work together to decide where and when they will spend time with each of you.
  7. Be flexible with the way you think about holidays.  If the kids are going to be travelling with your ex on Thanksgiving Day, plan to fix all of their favorite Thanksgiving recipes from your side of the family and celebrate on Saturday when they are back with you.  Be open to celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and even Christmas day on alternative days rather than the “day of” when the kids are with their other parent on the actual day.  The kids probably don’t care about the actual date, they’re just happy to celebrate again with you.
  8. Make new traditions that the children will remember and look forward to.  Change is inevitable after divorce, and some beloved traditions may no longer work for your family.  Look for ways to incorporate new traditions for everyone to cherish.
  9. Make plans for your time without the kids.  When your children are with your ex on a holiday, you could certainly be forgiven for feeling lonely and bitter.  Don’t sit alone and stew, make plans to spend the holiday with friends and family.  Of course you’ll miss your children, but try to look at the day as an opportunity to reconnect with your other loved ones, free from the distractions of looking after the kids.
  10. Be gentle with yourself and your family — adjustment is hard and takes time.  Again, holidays are about family, and it is just plain old hard sometimes to adjust to sharing your family.  Remember that it’s probably just as hard for your ex.  Give yourself some leeway if you get frustrated or lash out.  Apologize, move on, and stay focused on the children.

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