Co-Parenting Through the Holidays: A Guide

As parents, we want to be there for all of our child’s moments, from the small and mundane to the big and spectacular. With divorce, we not only navigate through all of the grown-up “mess”, but also recognize that we simply won’t be there for everything, anymore.

There is a Moments Mourning we must go through while remembering we will still be there for SO MANY THINGS, including the memories you wish you *didn’t* have to sit through (I’m looking at you, two-hour recital where my kid does something cute for 30 seconds, total).    

That said, the holiday season sends many divorced parents into a tailspin of guilt, sadness, jealousy, stress, and yes, even anger. As I enter my 11th year of Divorced Holiday Season, I’m here to give you some co-parenting tips and tricks that will make the next few months less burdensome and more enjoyable for you and yours. 

“Have fun with your father for Thanksgiving! I’ll cry over my martini when you pull out of the driveway! KISSES!”

Routines, Schedules, and Traditions

Children thrive on routine and knowing what to expect. It’s important to give them stability and a schedule that they can anticipate as they, too, navigate divorce and holidays. Try keeping a regular system in place so that there are no questions the moment October hits and the stores turn into the North Pole.

My ex-husband and I have used the same system for the last 11 years. One of us gets Thanksgiving and the other gets Christmas. The next year, we rotate. Our children never wonder who is going where. We have taken that burden off of them so that they can just be kids and get silly-excited as the season nears.

Additionally, my kids and I have come up with new traditions that we may have otherwise never done while keeping some of our old ones in place. For instance, we open Christmas with the older boys on New Year’s Eve during the year they have Christmas with Dad. If they share Thanksgiving with him, we make a big Thanksgiving shepherd’s pie for the day they return (hat tip to my “new” father-in-law for this one!). 

Self Care

I have done holiday seasons as a divorcee, single mom, and as a remarried wife with two additional children. Both scenarios can be very hard. As a single mom with both of my kiddos gone, I would get profoundly sad and wonder what the point of celebrating was if I couldn’t be with my kids. As a part of a blended family, I have felt extremely guilty carrying out plans and traditions while the older two are away at their dad’s house.

In both instances, I needed to protect my head and my heart. I allow myself some sadness, because sure, it stinks. However, I don’t allow myself to wallow in the muck. In the past, I’ve made it a point to sit at a holiday dinner with friends, travel and visit my family, reach out and connect, volunteer, and remember the true spirit of the season. With a blended family, I have had to remind myself that the older boys are not sitting in a holding cell in the dark, they are with their father, stepmother, and siblings. They are also celebrating with their family, just not our collective family. 

Remember, your kids are listening, even when you don’t think they are.

It’s About the Kids

This is the most important part. Divorce can be ugly and painful. In fact, it is ranked as the second most stressful life event for adults, just behind the death of a spouse. Kids can’t help but be stuck in the middle of whatever situations the adults play out. Please, please be mindful of your children.

I am not speaking from a high horse, rather, as someone who has faltered and regrouped during those extra stressful moments where hurt trumps logic. Allow your child to pick up the phone on a holiday where they are most likely missing their absent parent. I’ve learned to text my ex-husband and ask if there was a good time to call. It ensures that everyone will be available and ready to talk.

Once, I made my oldest son sausage balls “like Grandma made” because it was my year, not his dads. Sure, they didn’t come close because they lacked Grandma Christmas Magic, but I extended the gesture because I could see how important it was to my son. If your situation doesn’t allow your kids contact with their absent parent, perhaps offer a framed picture of them, have your child write a letter, or simply sit down and talk with them while validating their feelings.

Some seasons of divorce make these suggestions much easier to enforce than others. Remember, if things are choppy this year, that doesn’t mean you can’t try again next go-round. Make memories with your kids, hug them tight, and make the most of the time you spend together. Hopefully, your holiday season will be filled with joy and good cheer. 

Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Sound off below in the comments! 

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