Holidays can be hard enough to get through, but what if you’re co-parenting on top of it? Here’s your guide for navigating the holidays.
Holidays can be fun and action-packed, but they can also be hard and overwhelming. Nearly 88 percent of Americans find the holidays stressful—now add in co-parenting on top of all the hustle and bustle!
Learning to co-parent with an ex-partner during the holidays can be complicated. You need to coordinate schedules and ensure your children have an enjoyable season. There are a lot of things you need to balance!
Here are some tips to help you be the best co-parents possible for your children during the holiday season.
Prioritize the Kids
The first thing you need to think about is the kids. You can use your kids’ experience to help you start planning and guide your decisions. Take a look at everything from your children’s point of view.
Do you want too many transitions in one day? Will your child have time to relax? You want to make memories and not create a chaotic situation and exhausted kids.
Remember, this is probably as difficult for the kids as much as you. Make sure you watch their behavior and take time to let them relax.
One of your co-parenting goals should be to plan ahead. This is the best way to ensure that both co-parents get equal time with children—and also avoid any clashing or conflicts.
One of the best ways to do this is to put together a written plan in advance. If you have a plan already in your custody agreement, it’s best to follow that, but there are probably other experiences not included like seeing Santa and other celebrations. If there are any disagreements in terms of your court order, you should talk to your legal counsel as soon as possible.
You may need to adapt your parenting plan as your children get older. For example, your two-year-old needs nap time, while a 16-year-old probably wants to spend more time with friends during holiday school breaks.
Alternate Holidays Annually
A key option for co-parents is to alternate holidays to allow equal amounts of time with children and the same number of holidays annually. This works for some parents. You can alternate the holidays the following year to be fair.
For example, one year a parent has Easter, Thanksgiving, and another holiday while the other parent has Christmas, Halloween, and New Year’s Day.
It may be hard to find a perfect arrangement, but this allows both parents to celebrate all the significant holidays with the children.
Split the Holidays
Another possible way is to divide the time on the actual holiday. This works best when students are on school break (like winter and summer breaks).
You will just need to agree on the times. For example, one parent has the child in the morning and the other takes the child in the mid-afternoon to evening.
Coordinate the Children’s Gifts
It can be all too tempting to want to one-up the other parent when it comes to gifting by getting the children more expensive or elaborate gifts. This never works for your co-parenting relationship, and it probably does more harm to your bank account than necessary.
You should coordinate with the other parent to make sure the gifts are equal. You also want to make sure you don’t buy the same gift, so the child doesn’t have duplicates. You both know your child and they will probably ask for the same thing.
Make sure you also talk about the budget and the number of gifts. If there is anything you think should be off-limits (like electronics), it’s important to discuss ahead of time to avoid hard feelings.
In addition, make sure to discuss the agreement with grandparents as well. They may not know what you have decided.
While it’s important to have a solid plan in place, you do need to have some degree of flexibility. There is no plan that can account for unforeseeable things like illness or last-minute invites.
You can always re-arrange your plans as needed to let your children do what they want to do (or need to do if they need rest time). Flexibility is a goodwill gesture that can make the process smoother in the long run—and it’s good for your kids.
Keep Up With Traditions
Did you have certain traditions over the holidays? Did you always look at light displays? Did you cook special meals or bake together?
Your kids can still have these traditions. They don’t need to change because you and your ex-partner are no longer together.
Be sure to coordinate with the other co-parent to determine these traditions and how they will continue. Your kids are going through a lot of change, so the consistency of past traditions can be comforting. Routines can be comforting to children, and they may be expecting these traditions during the holiday season.
Create New Family Traditions
You can also focus on creating new family traditions. Depending on the old tradition, it may stir up some memories of how your family used to be. You can try to create some new traditions like eating in the living room and watching holiday movies.
Mix things up a little bit, but talk to your co-parent before doing anything too elaborate. Make sure you read and observe your children’s actions and reactions. It is not a competition.
Avoid Any Bad-Mouthing
If there is any tension with your ex, it may be tempting to let your frustration slip out even in front of the children. However, this can have such a negative impact on your kids.
It’s best to keep any negative comments to yourself and even watch for any passive-aggressive co-parent comments to one another. Try to keep any negative thoughts to yourself.
Even if you are on the phone with a friend, your kids may hear you, so avoid hurtful comments about the other parent.
Talk to Your Kids
Is this your first holiday season after a separation or divorce? If so, your children are probably unsure what to expect. This is why communication is key.
You need to sit down with your children and let them know what the plan is. This helps them to have time to mentally and emotionally prepare for the holiday season.
Once your logistical decisions are made, if possible, you should present the plan to your children as a united front. Reassure them that you worked out everything and it will be a good holiday season.
This gives your children stability which is comforting. It can help ease concerns and anxiety, especially if you can get along during the holiday season. Your kids may also worry about you being alone during the holiday, so reassure them that you are okay as well.
Take Care of Yourself
As we mentioned above, the holidays can be stressful and overwhelming. Dealing with a divorce is the same. You need to take care of yourself both emotionally (spending time with friends) and physically (eating healthy, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep).
You need to take care of yourself so you can take care of your kids. Plus, you are modeling healthy behavior for them. It’s a win-win situation!
You won’t have your children with you the entire holiday season, so take this free time to do what makes you feel good. Go shopping, read a book, watch your favorite movie, or just take time to focus on yourself and take care of your needs.
Be Thoughtful When Co-Parenting
Depending on your situation, you should show your children that you can be thoughtful to your ex-partner. Take a picture and send it to them when the kids are with you to show experiences like Santa or visiting light displays. This way they don’t completely miss out on these experiences.
You can even reach out an invitation if there are larger get-togethers for the kids. If there is a large group of people, you don’t have to worry about being stuck with your ex-partner. This won’t work for every situation, and you shouldn’t feel obligated.
Thoughtful gestures can go a long way. Have your children pick out a present for your ex-partner to show that you can get along. The present can be from your children.
Co-Parenting Goals and the Holidays
The holidays are supposed to be a special time for everyone. Remember, when co-parenting, you need to have some patience and create a co-parenting plan to help everyone enjoy the holidays.
Your kids should always be your first priority when making your co-parenting plan. Try to have some flexibility and make any adjustments as needed. It’s best to work things out ahead of time.