Your guide to surviving the holidays as a co-parent

A client of mine recently told me, “I feel so overwhelmed because I’m just getting used to co-parenting during the new school year when I start getting questions about the holidays!”

Co-parenting is one of the most stressful parts of getting a divorce, and this stress only gets worse during the holidays. Most divorce agreements have rules about where and when the kids will spend the holidays, but lawyers don’t give advice on how to best meet the emotional needs of the kids.

Who the kids spend the holidays with is mostly planned based on what the parents want, but what about the kids? As a clinical psychologist who specializes in divorce, I tell parents to think about how the holidays affect their kids just as much as, if not more than, how they feel.

Look at what happened to my client Sally. Sally was very sad because this would be the first Christmas without her kids. She told me that her ex was spending the holiday with the kids, but she was trying to “sneak” in time to see them. She thought she could meet them in the church parking lot on Christmas morning and give them her gifts. She also hoped they would come over after dinner to say hi to their visiting grandmother. When I heard about these plans, my mind went crazy. What a mess for the kids! Was it time with their father or time with their mother? Were they supposed to spend time with both of their parents or just one?

Sally wanted to be kind to her kids by giving them gifts and putting them in touch with family, but she was missing an important part of the co-parenting dance during the holidays: she was more concerned with her own needs than the kids’.

Sally wanted to see her kids because she knew she would miss them a lot, but was this the best thing for them? All kids need structure and things to look forward to. This is especially true when things are busy, like around the holidays. This structure gives them time to get ready for what’s to come and get used to where they are. Sally’s kids needed to know that when they were with their dad, they were with him 100 percent. This doesn’t mean that Sally can’t see her kids, but she can’t do it when her ex’s time is up.

I know it can be really hard to co-parent during the holidays, but there are five things you can do to make it easier on yourself and, more importantly, on your kids.

Make a plan for taking care of yourself.
I start with this tip because, as you learn on an airplane, you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help anyone else. Your kids will have a much better holiday if you have a plan for how to take care of yourself. It will also be easier to co-parent if you do.