The holidays can be a magical time of year, but they can also be difficult and stressful. The obligations can seem endless: children’s performances, parties, shopping for presents, and even family visits. Families are often surprised at just how tense the holidays can be. 

This can be especially true if you’re co-parenting with your ex and have young children splitting time between two homes this holiday season. Nevertheless, with a little planning and flexibility, you and your children can still enjoy the most wonderful time of the year. Here are five tips for divorced parents during the holidays.

1.  Put your children first.  Your children may be very sad that their parents can’t both be there to celebrate with them, especially in the first holidays after you and your ex separate. Listen to your children, and let them know it is okay to feel what they are feeling.  Don’t bad-mouth your ex-spouse. You don’t want your children to feel guilty or conflicted about spending holiday time at your ex’s house. The best gift you can give your children this holiday season is the gift of peace between their parents.

2.  Be flexible with schedule changes.  It’s often challenging to craft the right time-sharing arrangement for the holidays since everyone’s schedules can be very different from the regular day to day.  But children thrive when spending time with all of their caring family members, especially during the holidays. Discuss plans and schedules in advance with your ex to prevent misunderstandings and arguments about who has the kids when, but if your ex’s Aunt Lilly wants to see your kids for the one day she’s in town and that day falls on your scheduled parenting time, consider making an exception so that she can see them.  You can specify details of the time, location, and even length of visit. This season’s about generosity, after all.

3. Keep some holiday traditions but make new ones as well.  Maintaining a favorite tradition gives children a sense that not everything in their life is changing and some things will stay the same, such as your holiday baking or an Elf on the Shelf.   But creating new traditions can also be a way to make this season special.  Use your judgment to determine what will be a positive and happy experience for your kids.

4. Avoid competing over presents.  Divorced parents sometimes turn holidays into a competition for the best presents. This doesn’t help your children or your co-parenting relationship. Try to avoid one-upping your ex or competing for the child’s love with store bought presents. Or when shopping, keep your co-parent in mind. You may want to consider joining forces with your ex to get one bigger present for your child that comes from both parents. Getting a gift from both parents also tells your child that even though you’re no longer married, you will both always be there for them.

5.  Reach Out for Support.  Lastly, remember to take care of yourself during the holidays. When you get enough rest, eat healthy food, and exercise, it elevates your mood and you have more patience and more to give as a loving parent.   Reach out to close friends or family members if you’re having a rough time this holiday season.  Asking for help is a sign of  strength, not weakness.

Published on December 6, 2016