Divorce is never easy for anyone, parents and kids included. But it can be especially difficult during the holidays, when many people spend the majority of their time with collective families. Many tough decisions have to be made, and that can be a challenge for divorced parents who want to spend as much time as they can with their kids. That’s where I am right now, but I’ve found some ways to make the time and decisions more manageable. They may not work for every family or every situation, but considering them may help spark some things to help make co-parenting better for your family.

Focus on the Kids!

I think this is the most important thing to consider when making decisions for the holidays. Whether things with you and your ex are amicable, or if they’re not so friendly, you have to put all of that to the side to make the holidays joyful and happy for your kids. They are the most important people in your choices. What are you showing them with your actions? What will they detect in your tone when you speak to your ex? What do you want to teach them in decision-making moments? How are you showing them you want them to have a happy holiday? Your children are extremely perceptive, and they will hone in on everything. Make sure that you as parents are both exhibiting positivity that lets your children know you’re putting them, not yourselves and your feelings, first.

Communication is Crucial

Communicating with your ex can be very difficult this time of year, but it is so necessary. Even if talking to your kids’ father or mother isn’t easy, it is imperative to put all of your “adult” things to the side. Aside from birthdays, Christmas is probably the most child-focused celebration your kids experience each year, and they depend on you two to make them smile in some way.

That said, choose to communicate with your ex-spouse with this in the forefront of your mind: the holidays are not about you, your ex, the painful memories or unmet expectations of the past. Make a plan to talk in a sit-down meeting–with mediators, if necessary. Or, have a phone meeting with calendars in hand and talk through plans. Sincerely agree to consider each other’s thoughts. Whatever way works, just do it. Not communicating should never be an option. That will only breed confusion, angst and possibly animosity toward each other. That can potentially ruin your holiday, and it will definitely impact your kids’ time with you both.

Set a Schedule

This, perhaps, is probably the second most important thing to do, because it sets clear expectations and understandings about who will have the kids, and when. I would suggest doing this as early as possible. Waiting until the week (or days) before can be stressful and cause unnecessary issues if one parent has mentally planned earlier.

Some divorcees choose to do an “every other year” schedule. For me, it was important that my boys spend time with both of their parents on Christmas, and it worked out well. It has required sacrifice for us both as parents, but again, the day wasn’t about us. I gave up Christmas Eve night so the boys could wake up at their dad’s; then, they came to my house mid-morning to do Christmas morning with me. Parent perk for me: I didn’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to play Santa, which was pretty nice.

The rest of the day was also split between our families. The boys got to spend Christmas day with me and my parents, and my ex picked them up that evening to have dinner with him and his parents. While this may not work for everyone, the goal is to find a schedule that works for both families.

Set Expectations for Kids’ Gifts

Parents have the tendency to go overboard with gifts for their children during this season. To eliminate the appearance of trying to buy your kids’ affection, decide jointly on a budget for presents. Whether that’s $5 or $500, agree to spend equally. Also, consider communicating what you plan to purchase. You will avoid buying duplicate gifts if your child asks for the same thing from both of you.

Give Your Ex a Gift

While gift giving with exes can be tricky, it doesn’t have to be. Think of ways to allow your children to take part in sharing presents with their parent. I have younger kids, so last year the kids and I picked something out for my ex and put their names on it. But I also wanted my boys to have a moment to do something more personal for their dad. I let them put Spider-Man stickers, a pencil, and a whistle in his gift bag. They felt good knowing they created something for their dad, and it was special for all of them.

Surround Yourself with Loved Ones

This tip isn’t necessarily about co-parenting, but I’ve found some divorced parents don’t understand how important this is until they’re in the moment, unfortunately. Inevitably, there will be moments–or even days–when you will not be with your kid(s). In those moments, silence can be extremely loud. Having understanding and support during these difficult times is essential to emotional and mental stability. It can be tempting to sink into isolation during lonely periods, and to me, there’s nothing worse than feeling alone on Christmas or during the holidays. So if it’s not your year to have your kids during Christmas, spend it with extended family. Being surrounded by other people will help you through the holidays and any loneliness you may feel. It was definitely a help for me.

There are some harsh realities about divorce that may not go away for awhile, if ever. Separate celebrations tend to be a part of life in divorced households. But that doesn’t mean that there’s any less love for your kids, and they need to know and hear that from both of their parents, especially during the holidays. They need to know that both of you will always be a part of their lives., regardless of challenging schedules. Secure for them that Santa will always be Santa, Mom will always be Mom, Dad will always be Dad, and you all will NEVER stop being a family.

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