Skip to main content

5 expert tips for co-parenting during the holidays

Use this advice to get through the holidays in peace

Co-parenting can be a difficult road to navigate at any time of year, but sometimes the added stress of the holidays can make it more challenging. Even if you have schedules and systems in place that work for both parents throughout the year, the holidays can test the best co-parenting relationship.

If the holidays are already giving you anxiety as you try to coordinate your schedule with your co-parent, don’t worry. We spoke with attorney Renee Bauer, who is the founder and managing attorney at Happy Even After Family Law in Connecticut, to get her expert tips for healthy co-parenting during the holidays.

Child writing on a calendar
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Start early

Making plans during the holidays can be difficult, especially when you’re trying to accommodate everyone’s schedule, which is why Bauer, who is also a podcast host, author, and host of the women’s empowerment summit, She Who Wins, says starting your planning early is key. Don’t wait until a few days or even weeks before the big day to request a schedule change, or expect you’ll be able to dictate the family calendar without proper notice. She suggests using a shared calendar to add all special events and holidays so both parents are aware of key dates.

“Communication is key here. If you start early enough, you can map out the month, exchange parenting time, and agree, so no one misses out on anything,” Bauer told us. She also warned against waiting until the last minute to contact your lawyer if there’s a disagreement, since the holidays are one of their busiest times of the year. She suggests that being accommodating to special holiday requests goes both ways — so if you need your co-parent to agree to a schedule change for you, you also need to be flexible for them.

Girl is excited about getting a Christmas present from her father
Georgijevic / iStock Photo

Exchange gift lists

There’s nothing more frustrating than your child opening a gift from your co-parent only to find out it’s the same item you already bought, or that Santa was bringing. Fortunately, a little communication can help you both avoid this situation. Bauer suggests using a chart, like the one below, that is shared among both parents to ensure no one gets upset when a “must-have” gift from Santa is duplicated.

Gift Child Parent A Parent B Joint Price
Phone All X $500
Converse Susie X $40
Headphones Bobby X $25

“It’s important for parents to have conversations about which gifts the children are receiving and which gifts are off limits, and when, if ever, that gift would be appropriate,” she added. This can also help you avoid any ‘one-upmanship’ that can happen with co-parents during the holidays.

She also advises discussing whether you will be helping your children purchase a gift for your co-parent. If so, exchanging budgets and making sure you each know about the exchange is important. “This can be a really great way to show your children that you’re both still their parents and still value and respect one another,” Bauer said.

Teenage girl fighting with parents
YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Shutterstock

Be flexible

The holiday is filled with special events and traditions. Splitting those events and traditions between parents after divorce can be stressful for kids. It can also be frustrating for parents who are used to spending the holidays uninterrupted with their children. “These events are important and children look forward to them,” Bauer told us. “When there is strain and stress in a family, these events can cause anxiety and worry in children.”

This makes being flexible with your co-parent even more important, and accepting that you may not be able to attend every tradition or event with your child going forward. Bauer says not to look at any missed events as lost time, “but as an opportunity to start your own new traditions that your children will look forward to.”

Parent with child looking at a Christmas tree
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Create memories anytime

It can be frustrating to not be with your children during the holidays, but it’s important to remember that it’s your time with them that matters, not the date on the calendar. Co-parenting means having to compromise when it comes to sharing those special dates because ultimately, the children should be the priority and know that their parents are putting them first.

If you have to celebrate your special holiday on a different date, do everything you can to make your time with your children together special. As Bauer pointed out, “your children will remember a special moment you created for them,” and not what date it happened.

Festive celebration roasted turkey with gravy for Thanksgiving or Christmas
Elena Veselova / Shutterstock

Don’t force dinner!

We know, as adults, how frustrating it can be to travel from one house to another on a holiday and be expected to partake in a full meal everywhere you go, but imagine how difficult it must be for a child. “I’ve seen parents get so hung up on wanting their children at their house to eat a holiday dinner, that they actually force the child to eat two meals,” Bauer said. “Instead, how about your child has dinner at one house and dessert at the other? Your child doesn’t really care where they eat, so don’t put more emphasis on the act of consuming the meal than is necessary,” she advised.

While co-parenting during the holidays can be stressful for adults, kids can also have a tough time with it, especially if that co-parenting relationship is less than amicable. Having a good co-parenting relationship can make the holidays happy for all involved. “It is your job to keep the magic in the holiday and sometimes that means choosing peace over being right,” Bauer noted.

Editors' Recommendations

Kelli Catana
Contributor
Kelli is a freelance writer who has covered the world of entertainment, pop culture, parenting, and lifestyle for various…
6 reasons why all parents should let their kids have cellphones
Here are the pros for kids having their own phones by middle school
Group of tweens all using cellphones.

To allow your tween or teen to have a cellphone is a tough call. While the wonders of technology are enticing, kids seem to fall down a rabbit hole much like Alice did when they get a smartphone. Life quickly becomes a battle between parent and child regarding screen time. For parents deciding why kids should have cellphones, the pros need to outweigh the cons.

It doesn't take long for a cellphone to rapidly become an extension of your child's hand with online games, videos, social media, and texting. Then, of course, there is the Pandora's box a smartphone opens, like cyberbullying, sexting, inappropriate content, trolls, stalking, social media, privacy, and health concerns.

Read more
The 3-month-old milestones every new parent should know
Learn about these milestones and what to look forward to
A baby on a play mat trying to get the dangling toys

From a first giggle to a first blowout — hey, it will happen, a lot — not all milestones will be cute, but they are important markers. During the first couple of months, it might seem all your baby does is eat, sleep, need their diapers changed, and cry because they want one of those other things, but then the 3-month-old milestones kick in and things get more amusing. See where your baby should be by month 3, and know what new, adorable adventures there are to look forward to.

Movement milestones
Your 3-month-old will love to move

Read more
These are the college planning tips parents need to know for their teens
When the time arrives, these tips will come in handy
Excited freshman girl

If you're the parent of a high school student, the college years aren't as far away as you may think. When teens are freshmen, most of the focus is on helping kids adjust to the demands of high school. By the end of sophomore year, it's time to start thinking about college.

While it might seem early, it's actually not. Senior year will be here before you know it. As a parent of a teen, it can be difficult to know when to start prepping for the SATs or when to book those college visits. Planning for college is a stressful process for parents and teens. Having college planning tips helps make the undertaking less daunting, especially if this is your first child in high school. College planning also keeps you and your high schooler on track.

Read more