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 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. Your children come first
The first holiday without both parents present is usually the toughest for kids. You should expect some 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
Be flexible but firm about holiday plans. It’s often challenging to craft the right time-sharing arrangement 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 all of their caring family members, especially during the holidays. If your ex’s Aunt Sophie 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. And 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 ex (or relatives of your ex) will proceed. You can specify details of the time, location, and even length of 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 all 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, 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 forge new memories.
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 be.
If you and your ex 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 schedule. 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 be a positive and happy experience for your kids.
4. Avoid competing over presents
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 often 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.
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 your ex 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 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. Stock up on movies, hot chocolate, and a good bottle of wine.
Take time to relax this holiday season, even if it’s just for a few hours. With so many moving pieces, the holidays can be super stressful and overwhelming. Pay attention to the vibe in your house. If your children need some downtime, make sure you’re prepared to have a quiet night in. Here, in San Francisco, we can’t exactly go out and play in the snow, but a moment of lightness is appreciated just the same.
Dealing with divorce during the holidays is hard; while it’s tough, you need to avoid comparing yourself to other families (with their seemingly picture-perfect holiday cards and annual updates) or to your own past holidays. Change is inevitable, there is no such thing as a perfect family, and these comparisons will do nothing other than make you miserable, which doesn’t really fit into the holiday spirit anyway. Focus on joy and being grateful for what you do have.