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Bah, Humbug: Surviving The Holiday Season

Our Covid lifestyle and toilet paper hoarding ways started back in March, but the holidays are literally right around the corner and we’re still fat. We get that it’s hard to make rock-solid plans when you’re worried about the ‘rona, but seasonal events and family gatherings require the “3 Cs of Co-parenting”: communication, coordination, and collaboration. Hashing out the details of family gatherings, gift exchanges, and other special celebrations is crucial if you want your children to have healthy and healthy holiday experiences. Don’t stress about trying to keep things “relatively normal”—normal went out the window a long time ago! The holidays are going to look a lot different for everyone this year, and that’s okay. As long as you keep your priorities straight, your kids can make new memories, experience different traditions, and enjoy all the holiday festivities the end of the year has to offer despite (and sometimes because of) your divorce. Here are nine tips to help you successfully co-parent your way through Thanksgiving and beyond. 

  1. STOP, COLLABORATE, AND LISTEN. Let the words of Vanilla Ice wash over you. This year might not look like a Hallmark movie, but as long as you collaborate with your co-parent and actually listen to your kids, the holidays can still be enjoyed. STOP making everything about you and your beef with your ex. COLLABORATE with your co-parent regarding presents and holiday schedules. LISTEN to your children, clear up any confusion, and ask them what they need.
  2. Be Decisive. Don’t cancel or switch up plans if you can help it. Your kids’ lives have already been upended by the divorce process and the constant changes and uncertainties that 2020 has brought (quarantine, virtual school, etc). If they are teenagers, consider asking them who they would like to spend the holidays with. If they are younger than 12, communicate with your co-parent and make healthy decisions for them. Don’t promise them a Christmas day with both parents unless it’s something you’re 100% sure about. ALWAYS make sure your plans are consistent with your separation agreement. Let them know what’s happening in advance and explain why, and don’t backtrack unless absolutely necessary. 
  3. Manage Their Expectations. Many parents are tempted to make promises to their kids over the holidays to assuage their guilt or to take their kids’ minds off the divorce, but don’t make promises you can’t keep. It’s also important to not make GIFT promises without consulting your co-parent first. Discuss purchases with your ex and decide whether or not you want to split the cost for more costly gifts. There is NOT a competition between you and your ex over who gives the best gifts, so don’t try to “out-do” or undermine the other. If one parent has a “no phone” rule, don’t go buy an iPhone 11 out of spite. When your child asks for something, tell them you’ll discuss it with their other parent first (and actually do it). 
  4. Don’t Force The Issue. If you and your co-parent are not on good terms, don’t force an awkward (and possible volatile) get-together over the holidays. Even if you’re good at “playing nice,” kids can easily pick up on tension and it will stress them out. Talk to your co-parent about some alternatives. For example, one parent can have Christmas Eve, while the other can have Christmas day. It might be different than what the kids are used to, but try to see it as an opportunity to create new traditions and fun experiences for your children. 
  5. Be Flexible. It’s really hard to make plans when you’re constantly wondering if the state’s about to get shut down again due to Covid, so it’s important to be flexible. If there’s another lock down, your kids will need to be in the safest environment possible (and the most practical in regards to internet connection, etc). This might mean giving up your Thanksgiving dinner plans or it might even mean not seeing your child over the holidays at all. This is a very tough pill to swallow, but it is something parents need to be prepared for. Ultimately, your kids’ health comes first and we are still in a pandemic. Your plan for the holidays might not be 2020’s plan for the holidays, so keep an open mind.
  6. The Gift Of Peace. Not to sound cheesy, but the best thing can you give your kids this holiday season is the gift of parental peace. Your child should never feel guilty about expressing love for their other parent and they shouldn’t feel the need to “pick a side,” particularly during the holidays. If you’ve given them a choice, don’t punish your child by pouting over who they choose to spend the holidays with and don’t try and change their minds. A peaceful Hanukkah or a peaceful Christmas doesn’t require both parents under one roof—it just means a holiday without fighting, manipulation, or guilt trips. 
  7. Focus On The Details. Working out the details regarding the holidays can be stressful, but it’s not something your kids should EVER have to worry about (that’s your job). Reach out to your co-parent via a text, phone call or email and figure out exactly where your children will be, when they’ll be there, and who will be picking up and dropping off. Again, make sure these plans are consistent with your separation agreement. Don’t let your kids question whether Christmas Eve with dad is actually going to happen—see to it that it does. 
  8. Be Considerate. It can be hard to be considerate toward someone who did you dirty, but a little thoughtfulness goes a long way. You can tell your kids that the holidays are “about them” all you want, but actions speak louder than words. Encourage your kids to help make or buy a present or a card for their other parent. If the kids are with you over the holidays, allow them to reach out to your ex when appropriate via a text or a FaceTime call. Show your children that you want them to have a healthy relationship with your co-parent, and hopefully they will do the same for you.
  9. This Is Not A Competition. The holidays are not a competition for your kids’ time, so make them more about your children and less about your unsubstantiated fears of being replaced or forgotten. As Charles Dickens wrote, “Reflect upon your present blessings—of which every man has many—not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

Looking for legal guidance this season? Schedule an appointment today!