The holidays can be a stressful time for just about anyone, with all of the special events, shopping, family obligations, performances, and crazy schedules to juggle. But if you’re a separated or divorced parent, worrying about child custody and co-parenting over the holidays adds another level of stress. Now you have to navigate separate household schedules, extended family expectations, any lingering tensions, and both parents’ desire to spend as much time with your children as possible.
The thing is, your kids deserve happy, low-stress holidays surrounded by people who love them and want the best for them. No matter what else you and your co-parent may disagree on, you’re likely on the same page here. To help you keep that big picture in mind, here are six tips for healthy holiday co-parenting that can help reduce stress for both you and your children.
1. Make a Holiday Co-Parenting Plan
Your child custody agreement should contain a holiday schedule. This will make your planning easier since you’ve already decided how you’ll share the holidays. However, what worked when your child was six years old may no longer make sense when they’re sixteen. If you need to revise your holiday parenting plan, consult with a lawyer in advance. An attorney may be able to help you and your child’s other parent modify the schedule.
If you don’t already have a plan in place for your children’s holiday schedule and their time off from school, the best option is to sit down with your co-parent and build one together — if you can communicate effectively with the other parent. Don’t assume that just because you have your kids every Wednesday, and Christmas this year falls on a Wednesday, that you will be with the kids on Christmas Day. If you need help or reach an impasse, contact your family law attorney.
Remember that when you’re trying to get an agreement on custody, you’ll have to make compromises. Accept that you won’t get everything you want. Do your best to coordinate celebrations with your extended families, talk about any trips you want to take so your co-parent is on the same page, and try to make sure that you both have quality time with the kids. And remember, you can celebrate a holiday on whatever day you like — no matter what the calendar says.
2. Start New Family Traditions
After a separation, you may want to hang on to old traditions to try to recreate past happiness. But focusing on things you used to do may highlight the fact that your family isn’t the same anymore. If your kids will be sad that Dad isn’t there to set up the train set or Mom isn’t there to read the annual holiday bedtime story, then it’s time to start new traditions.
Perhaps you can introduce a tradition from your childhood, dig out your great-grandmother’s sugar cookie recipe, or establish an annual “movie marathon day” where no one gets out of their PJs. Whatever you do, keep the focus on being together and finding something that your new family unit can look forward to every year.
3. Acknowledge That Things Are Different
Because many holiday celebrations are structured around time with families, they may trigger unexpected feelings after a separation or divorce. Your children may act out, or you may find yourself feeling lost— especially if this is your first holiday season as two separate families. The truth is that change is difficult, and holiday events can highlight the fact that nothing will ever be the same.
As you come to terms with these changes, you should acknowledge that reality with your children and validate everyone’s emotions. It’s also important to not only remain civil with your co-parent, but also to communicate with them about how your children are handling this change and working through their grief. This way, you will both be on the same page if the extra holiday stress causes tensions to rise.
4. Don’t Try to Buy Your Way to Love
A lot of recently separated parents try to overcompensate by buying lots of presents for their kids or blowing their budget on something expensive. But showering kids with big-ticket items isn’t going to change the fact that their parents aren’t together anymore. It can also lead to resentment or anger from your co-parent if your gift-giving habits are consistently over the top. Instead, try to coordinate gifts with your co-parent and agree on a budget well before the holidays. Having a plan in place can help keep “gift competition” at bay and also reduce the possibility of duplicate gifts.
5. Be Flexible During the Holidays
Not everything will be “fair” when co-parenting around the holidays. You’re not going to get everything you want when it comes to time with your kids, and neither is your co-parent. But being flexible and willing to make compromises where necessary is an act of goodwill that can make things much more pleasant for everyone in the long run.
It’s also good behavior to model for your children. So, for example, if your co-parent’s family celebrates Hanukkah, but you don’t, consider an agreement where your kids will spend every Hanukkah with that side of the family regardless of what you have going on. If your child is sick on the day they were going to celebrate Thanksgiving with your co-parent, be open to helping them find another time that works for everyone, even if that happens to be one of “your” days with the kids.
6. Practice Self-Care
Parents who take care of themselves both mentally and physically are better able to take care of their children. This is doubly true for those of you trying to peacefully co-parent during the holidays. To keep stress to a minimum while managing everyone’s busy holiday schedules, try to get enough sleep, eat well, and protect your personal downtime.
Be intentional about spending quality time with friends and family, especially when your kids are with their co-parent. And if you feel conflict or stress beginning to escalate beyond what you feel you can manage, don’t hesitate to seek out help from a third party, such as a therapist, mediator, or family lawyer.
Myers Law Firm: Experienced Family Law and Custody Attorneys
At Myers Law Firm, we are committed to providing the highest degree of personal service to our clients as they navigate through difficult periods in their lives. If you are facing child custody complications during the holidays, our experienced and compassionate attorneys can serve as a source of support or guidance—both in and outside of the courtroom. We will answer your questions and work with you every step of the way.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.