Divorce and the holidays can get complicated and challenging for many reasons. Feelings of anger, resentment, and hurt can often run high on the emotions list for divorced and divorcing parents. Add in the pressure they may feel to make sure the kids have a positive experience, and it can be a recipe for parental stress.
It’s not easy—especially in the first couple of years, to navigate holiday schedules, including making decisions about where the kids will be for various holiday celebrations and school breaks. Keep in mind that the kids are likely experiencing their own anxieties, hopes, and feelings of uncertainty that accompany divorce and the holidays.
As a parent and family mediator, I help guide divorcing and divorced couples to create solutions that work for them and their children. This includes the holidays. In fact, sometimes parents will sometimes come to me just to mediate holiday schedules to ensure things go more smoothly and without conflict. Holiday plans and traditions you may have had as an intact family now have to adapt to the new situation, and it isn’t only a significant change and transition for the kids but also for the co-parents to navigate.
So, how can families that are now apart retain the joy of the season when emotions are running high and parental cooperation can be both necessary and elusive?
Here are 10 Co-Parenting Tips for divorce and the holidays:
1. Have a game plan.
Create common ground about the holidays when you’re apart. A good exercise is for both parents to write down a schedule they think makes sense and then have a conversation and compromise.
2. Prioritize the kids.
Keep personal feelings for your co-parent away from the kids. This isn’t easy to do. I get it. But if you can set aside your “adult conflicts” and stay focused on the kids, you will serve them tremendously. Can you agree with your co-parent that your children’s memories of the holidays are more important than any conflict between you?
3. Make it special and create new traditions.
Ask yourself what experiences and memories you want the kids to have, then plan accordingly. Consider discussing, for example, what your shared and individual hopes are for your family and how you can cooperate to provide smooth transitions and enjoyable times with each parent. If your co-parent has the kids for Christmas Eve and brings them to your home the morning of Christmas Day, plan a special breakfast or experience you can make your own. Kids thrive on repetition and tradition and may love the anticipation of “doing the same thing” with you each year. Make this an opportunity to start something new!
4. Model good behavior for your kids.
Regardless of their age, your kids are watching your interactions. If you are rude to each other, it will almost certainly influence their holiday experience. You don’t have to pretend that nothing has changed, but you can be polite and show respect for each other.
5. Have empathy and compassion for each other.
This is NOT EASY to do! But try to remember that your co-parent may be hurting, too, and that the one thing you will always share is your kids. When you show compassion and empathy for each other, your children will feel more secure.
6. Slow down.
The holidays are hectic, but they are also a time to slow down, reflect, appreciate, and maintain peace. Try to think about what you want to say to your co-parent before you say it. Carefully thought-out messages are received better, leading to better results.
7. Avoid reflexive reactions.
Try not to react immediately to your co-parent; instead, listen and let them finish what they want to communicate. It’s easy to hear something we don’t like or find disagreeable and become defensive or reflexively react negatively. Instead, take a deep breath, let them finish their thoughts, and then engage with them in a solutions-oriented way. Even better, don’t react immediately – tell your co-parent you need some time to think about it. It is better to take time to process than to regret your immediate response later.
8. Keep the lines of communication open.
Communicate early and often so both co-parents can cooperate and coordinate any transitions that need to happen over the holiday. If you propose something, be clear and provide context for why it is important to you.
9. Change your perspective.
If you were to look through your children’s eyes, what would the holiday plan look like to them? Let their experience and well-being be the compass to guide your decisions.
10. Consider Using Mediation.
If this is a time when the two of you just can’t seem to agree or find yourselves getting stuck, consider engaging support. Mediation can be a lifeline to help keep things on track when communication is difficult or emotions get in the way. Sometimes, even one or two mediation sessions can get you through the sticking points and help you get things on track. With the neutral support of a mediator, you can create more constructive communication and set the stage for better collaboration in the future.
Divorce and the holidays, although complicated, can be less stressful and more joyous. The best part: so much more of it is in your control than you may realize!
Like this article? Check out, “How to Ask Forgiveness From Someone You’ve Hurt”
Erik M Feig founded Feig Mediation Group, a parent and family-focused mediation firm in Bethesda, Maryland to help parents, families and businesses create paths to more positive outcomes when important issues and decisions are on the line and communication can be most difficult. He is a mediator, accomplished attorney, and parent of three amazing children.
As a mediator a Co-parenting Specialist, and a Disability Informed Professional, Erik is committed to helping his clients align with each other when important issues and decisions need to be addressed and the old, familiar ways of doing things are no longer sufficient to meet the needs of today – or tomorrow. It’s an approach that recognizes – and seeks to mitigate against – the stress and harm that can result from poor or ineffective communication and unresolved conflict.
As a parent in a neurodiverse family himself, Mr. Feig has a particular commitment to working with parents where neurodiversity and special needs are factors in their families. He brings a practical, real-world approach to help parents engage each other more constructively when decisions impacting their neurodivergent children are required.
Mr. Feig received his law degree from Fordham University School of Law and his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University. He is a member of the bars of Maryland, Washington DC, and New York.
A lifelong learner who believes strongly that every day offers opportunities to learn and expand how he may better serve the families he works with, Mr. Feig is a member and contributor to two professional discussion and learning groups, including through the Mosten Guthrie Academy, where he shares best practices with other leaders in the field. He is a member mediator on the rosters of Collaborative Dispute Resolution Professionals of Maryland and Collaborative Professionals of Baltimore, and is on the roster of approved mediators for the Circuit Court of the City of Baltimore, MD.