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Divorce & Co-Parenting Through the Holidays

The holidays can be a magical time of year, but they can also be difficult and stressful. The
obligations can seem endless: school performances, work parties, shopping for presents, and
family visits. This is especially true if you are newly divorced and co-parenting with your former
spouse, splitting time between two homes this holiday season. With a little planning, flexibility, and
understanding you and your children can still enjoy the most wonderful time of the year. Here
are a few tips for newly divorced parents trying to navigate the holiday season.

1. Your children come first. Let me repeat that-your children come first!
The first holiday without both parents present is usually the toughest for kids. You should expect
your children to be confused, sad, angry, or disappointed. Take the time to listen to their
concerns and validate that it’s okay for them to have these feelings.
If you get stressed out about all the holiday minutiae, remember to think about your kids. They
can feel your stress, so take a deep breath and find a way to decompress if tensions rise.

2. Be okay with changes to the schedule.
Many divorce agreements state a specific holiday visitation schedule. If yours doesn’t, then try
to be flexible but firm about holiday plans. It’s often challenging to schedule arrangements for
the holidays since both your and your children’s schedules can be very different than the regular
day to day.

Children thrive when spending time with all of their loving and caring family members, especially
during the holidays. If one of you has an out of town relative that wants to see your kids for the
short time they’re in town and that day falls on your scheduled parenting time, consider making
an exception. If you’ve been awarded sole custody of your children, you can draft up a Child
Visitation Letter to explain how visitation between your children and your former spouse (or their
relatives) will proceed. You can specify the details of the time, location, and even length of the visit.
This season’s about generosity, after all.

3. Keep some traditions but be willing to make new ones.
Some divorced parents choose to spend holiday time together to help their children feel
supported. There’s nothing wrong with sharing these special moments — just because you’re
divorced doesn’t mean you’re still not a family.

However, especially right after the divorce, many families don’t — since sharing traditions can
result in drama and what felt good before now may feel like a mere reminder of what’s gone. If
that’s the case, move on from past traditions and create new ones.

Parents often decide to alternate holidays or split the days in half. For example, many parents
find that they want to be there for certain traditions, so each year they rotate where the kids will

If you and your former spouse haven’t done so yet, you can lay out the agreed-upon holiday
schedule in a Parenting Plan — and even include provisions on how to handle changes in
holiday schedules. It’s an essential document that helps both parents get on the same page,
from child support to visitation schedules.

One last tip is to remember that holidays are ultimately about taking time out of our normal
day-to-day to spend time with family. Get creative and come up with new traditions to follow.
Use your judgment to determine what will create a positive experience for your kids.

4. Avoid trying to outdo each other when it comes to gift-giving.
Dealing with an ex can be frustrating, especially when you’re trying to solidify holiday plans and
they’re being uncooperative or even just plain nasty. After all, couples generally divorce for a
reason. Nevertheless, during the holidays, it’s especially important to make sure your decisions,
reactions, and behavior reflect what is best for your children’s happiness and well-being. This
isn’t about you or your ex.

Divorced parents sometimes turn holidays into a competition for the best presents, activities,
and vacations. This doesn’t help anyone. Instead of comparing yourself to your ex, try to think of
alternative ways to involve your kids and your ex in holiday planning. Try to avoid one-upping or
competing for the child’s love by focusing on non-financial presents.

When you’re shopping, keep your co-parent in mind. For example, you may want to consider
joining forces 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 both
will always be there for them.

5. Work with your ex in a cooperative manner for the kids’ sake.
One of the things we always tell our clients is that their divorce is between them and their former
spouse. The holidays can be a wonderful experience for the kids provided that’s the shared goal
you and your former spouse have for them.

I know of one couple who have agreed for the kids’ dad to have them for the holidays because
his parents are still around and hers aren’t. She celebrates the holidays with the kids at another

The result? Everyone’s able to make the most of the holidays!

6. Be realistic
Your life is in the midst of a major change. For most people, separation and divorce bring
increased responsibilities along with decreased financial means and free-time. Be sure and
factor this in this holiday season. If you do, you’ll find it easier to be realistic with the
expectations you have of yourself, your family, and the holidays this year.

7. One holiday at a time
The holiday season can easily be a blur of activities that pretty much start as soon as the
jack-o-lantern is off the front porch on the morning of November 1st. Prevent the blur by
focusing on just one holiday at a time. Avoid multitasking and the potential of being
overwhelmed by taking the holidays just as they come, one…at…a…time.

If this is your first holiday season without your former spouse, it will more than likely be difficult.
It will be different, but different doesn’t have to be bad. You and your family can still have a
happy holiday by trying to follow some of these tips above.


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