Co-Parenting Through The Holiday Season: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Image courtesy of North Roebuck Elementary School

The holiday season is officially upon us, and with it comes a flurry of activity: cooking, baking, shopping, and sending out greeting cards– the list is practically endless. In the hustle and bustle it can be easy to overlook the fact that a quarter of our nation’s children face an additional challenge during this time. They must run the gauntlet that comes with being part of a family impacted by divorce. As someone who has been navigating this very situation with my own children, I offer up some suggestions to keep the holidays joyful, not miserable. Three guidelines I have found most beneficial for co-parenting during these times (and pretty much all other times) are to be flexible, avoid guilt trips, and remember that the kids come first.

In order to successfully co-parent through the holidays, flexibility is essential. I realize that custodial agreements come with parenting schedules outlined, typically including who ‘gets’ the children for the various holidays throughout the year. While it is important to have guidelines, I see no reason to be militant. My children’s father and I work together to make sure our plans flow smoothly for our children, and we also make sure that the kids get time with both parents over the holidays, regardless of which parent ‘owns’ the particular holiday that year. For example, if I have Thanksgiving Day, I make sure my children see their father that evening or the following weekend so they can celebrate with his family too, and vice versa. Same goes for Christmas: the parent given the holiday that year gets to choose Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and the other parent takes the opposite day. Do we have to do it this way? No, we don’t. Whoever is assigned the particular holiday on a given year could insist on having the kids all to themselves. However, we realize that is not in the best interest of our kids, so we work together and share all holidays. In fact, we come together on Christmas morning so the kids can have Mommy and Daddy there when they see what Santa has brought them. Will it be that way forever? No, I am sure it won’t. But for now, while they are little, it’s important to them to have that hour with both of their parents on Christmas morning, and if it’s important to them, it’s important to us.

Flexibility looks different for everyone–maybe one parent keeps the kids an extra night so they can visit family out of town; maybe one parent lets the other buy the ‘favorite’ gift this year because they got the opportunity to do so last year. Just remember that the holidays are more fun for your kids when you are relaxed and able to cooperate instead of playing ‘watch the clock’ and ruling your parenting schedule with an iron fist.

Image courtesy of Dippylulu

Along with being flexible, the best gift a co-parenting family can give their kids is to put aside the guilt trips. Honestly this should be the case year round, but especially so during the holidays, which can be stressful enough without the added ‘gift’ of guilt. This rule applies to everyone. Parents need to make sure they aren’t causing their children to feel guilty, deliberately or even unintentionally. When kids leave one parent during the holidays, they can feel like they are abandoning them: Poor Mom, what will she do without us there to celebrate? Poor Dad, what’s he going to feel like being alone at Christmas? Be sure to support your children and encourage them to have a great time while they are with the other parent. You don’t need to ask a million questions or make judgments about their time away from you: Oh, really? Mommy isn’t taking you to church this year? Oh, Daddy got you that movie? I was going to get it for you. Recognize that as the parent your job is to help guide your kids through these times, not to make them feel worse.

As I said, this rule goes for everyone. Extended family members need to realize that the parents are trying to make the best of a tough situation, and support them instead of undermining them. Unfortunately I have learned that co-parenting means missing out on some awesome times with my kids. Speaking for divorced parents everywhere, we all know that it stinks. We know that you really wanted the kids to be at each and every holiday event you have planned this year, because they always used to come before the divorce. Complaining because the kids won’t be at your Christmas brunch this year doesn’t help anyone. Hearing you remind us of the things we will be missing is not necessary, and not very loving, for that matter. Extended family members can give children in co-parenting families a wonderful gift by supporting the parents and by enjoying the time they get to spend with the children, focusing on the positive instead of dwelling on the negative.

Image courtesy of Memmu

Finally, as I said, always remember that the kids come first; put their needs above your own during the holidays. They didn’t choose to be part of a divorced family, so don’t make it any harder on them than it has to be. Instead, do your best to make sure they will look back someday and smile at the memories they have made with both of their parents. In fact, if you work together to co-parent through the holidays, your kids will ideally have double the warm memories to look back on. They may not remember the material gifts you gave them as the years go by, but they will remember that you gave them the gift of loving, hassle-free holidays. And that is far better than any gift money can buy.