Although it can be difficult any time of the year, co-parenting during the holidays can be particularly challenging for separated parents. Holidays are typically filled with family-based events during which most parents like to have the entire family together. However, if the spouses are separated it can unintentionally create frustration and anxiety for children that feel torn about spending time between two parents.
Each divorce decree or order affecting the parent-child relationship can have unique custody arrangements, but most tend to alternate or split holidays between the parents. It’s rare for separated parents to spend the holidays together with the children. Whether you and the other parent find yourselves in one of these scenarios or are looking to modify your arrangement due to a change in circumstances such as the aging of children, it is important to keep the best interests of your children at heart.
5 Steps For Successful Co-Parenting During the Holidays
Co-parenting during the holidays is not always easy, but there are several basic steps that parents can follow to make a good faith effort to create a loving and stress-free atmosphere for their children. The top 5 ways to successfully co-parent during the holidays can include:
- Prioritizing the children
- Being transparent
- Planning ahead
- Being flexible with plans
- Taking competition out of the equation.
Prioritizing the Children
With all the holiday festivities, it can be easy to get lost in the details from the special décor to themed food to celebratory activities. While these can certainly be a part of a holiday celebration with your children, they should not be the main focus. Remember to make the children a priority by:
- Asking them if they would like to make a holiday craft.
- Letting them help with choosing a side or dessert for a family meal.
- Asking them what you could do together to make their holiday extra special.
Be honest and transparent with the other parent about what you envision for the holidays and be willing to hear them do the same. If having the kids with you on Christmas day is extremely important because that is the day your parents are in town, be candid about the reasoning behind your request. This type of approach may help eliminate misinterpretation. An angry or uncooperative parent can use this information to ruin your Christmas, so be judicious and use your best judgment about how much to share.
Sometimes simply planning the family’s holiday celebrations well in advance can be one of the best tools for co-parenting during the holidays. This may involve having a difficult conversation with the other parent about events that are months or weeks away, but it could make for a more seamless transition as the busy holiday season approaches.
The one caveat to planning ahead is that parents must be cognizant that plans can and often do change. A change of plans does not always mean bad faith. Sometimes, unforeseen circumstances cause plans to change. Other times, a vindictive parent deliberately tries to ruin the other’s holiday with last minute scheduling. Regardless of the reason, the best immediate response is patience and compromise. A lesson may be learned about future holidays but yelling and showing frustration will not help with the immediate issue.
Being Flexible with Plans
Even the best laid plans can be subject to change. This could be the result of a sick family member, extended family visiting during the holidays, or even a weather event that prevents travel. The important thing to remember in these situations is to treat your children’s other parent as you would hope to be treated if the roles were reversed.
Being accommodating with plans does not require you to become a doormat but may require flexibility. Some ideas for being flexible with plans may be:
- Setting make-up days in advance. With the holidays being so busy, it can be a good idea to agree that make-up days will be discussed in good faith if plans change.
- Honoring the kids’ schedule. Middle school and high school children begin to develop their own social calendar. While it is important for kids to spend time with parents, take care not to be so over-demanding of their time that it leaves them no time with friends.
Taking Competition Out of the Equation
Competition is consistently one of the biggest pitfalls of co-parenting during the holidays. Particularly in a strained relationship, a parent may feel compelled to pull out all the stops to ensure their holiday celebration with the children is superior to the other’s. While this sentiment is understandable, parents should avoid the competition trap as it creates stress for the child being used in a parenting contest.
Some basic ways to take parental competition out of the holidays can include:
- Setting a dollar amount per child for gifting. This should be a reasonable amount that both parents can afford. If there is a more expensive item a child is requesting, consider splitting the cost between both parents. In addition to the child receiving the gift they desired, the parental teamwork required to buy the gift is often an added bonus in a child’s eyes.
- Coordinate gift giving to ensure a child does not end up with duplicate gifts.
- Remember that a child’s love cannot be bought. While gifts may make them temporarily starry-eyed, the time together with a parent is what the child will remember years from now.
Following the above steps are a great starting point for successfully co-parenting during the holidays. Even if the holidays are not how you once pictured, you still have the capability to make them a magical and warm experience for your children.
Q: Do I have to co-parent with my ex during the holidays?
A: Most likely not. Refer to your divorce decree or court order for clarification, but however you proceed, be sure to prioritize your child’s best interests.
Q: How can I prioritize my child for holiday celebrations when co-parenting?
A: Let the children have a part in the planning process.
Q: How do I make sure the other parent doesn’t buy the same gift for my child?
A: Be open and transparent with the other parent and coordinate gifting efforts to avoid duplicates.
Q: We had everything planned and now my child is invited to a friend’s party and it messes everything up. What do I do?
A: Talk with the other parent and try to work out something you can both live with. Remember to take your child’s feelings into account when making your decision.
Q: How can I make sure my ex doesn’t spend more on gifts than me?
A: Consider agreeing on a dollar amount for gifting.