“The first year is horrible. So, if you’re watching this and you’re just separated or divorced, the first year is supposed to be horrible.” Karen Cahn, Founder/CEO of VProud TV

The holidays can be stressful enough without having to deal with the complication of co-parenting with an ex. Here are some helpful tips from parents who are in the trenches:

Tips for Co-Parenting During the Holidays

  1. Remember that you are the adult. You make the decisions.
  2. Plan ahead with your ex and write everything down so that expectations are clear. Remember that it’s about the kids, so do be willing to compromise, and neither partner should make plans without consulting the other.
  3. Don’t worry about the date. What matters is that you are celebrating your holiday together. Whether or not it happens on the actual day is not important.
  4. Take advantage of alone time. Model good behavior for your kids and let them know you’ll be taking care of yourself while they are gone.
  5. Be open to transforming traditions. Make a list of the traditions you and your kids love and divvy it up with your ex.
  6. Do not flood your kids with presents. Divorce is hard, and it’s tempting to try to make your kids feel better by buying them stuff, but don’t. Discuss presents ahead of time and agree with your ex about who will buy what – split the wishlist.
  7. Work in new traditions very gradually. Your kids are going through a lot of change, so additional changes need to be introduced mindfully.

Our Jessica Hancock says, “I think a lot of her tips are good, and if it is possible to work out the holidays while sitting down together, that’s fantastic. But the reality is that that scenario may not work out for every family. Having co-parented for only the last 3 years during the holidays, I’ve found that one of the best things you can offer your kids is consistency. I’m all about being flexible and working on sharing events or activities, but I also think it’s very important to keep as many traditions as you can while still working together. In my case, having a set schedule with the actual day of the holiday has made life easier. Everything else we can work out or switch, but being able to offer my daughter the stability of knowing where she will be every year, or every other year, has been a life saver for everyone’s anxiety. Transition to blended families can be difficult as well, so I think it is really important, if you can, to talk to your kids about how things are going to change and how things are going to stay the same. At the end of the day the most important thing should be making it a happy holiday season for everyone.”

Courtni George, a Seattle area mother of two and stepmother of one, has another viewpoint. “At a certain age, I think it is important to empower them in deciding what it is that they want to do,” she says. In her blended family, her 8 year old stepdaughter is allowed to choose which home to go to for the holidays and that is working for them. She also has some general advice for stepparents: “As a new stepparent – don’t force it. I never ever ever force a relationship with (my husband’s daughter). I am not her mother, and I don’t pretend to be. All are equal in my house. She gets zero special treatment just because she isn’t a permanent resident, and my kids don’t because they are.

I think she is learning to respect me because of that, and I think our relationship will be really strong as she gets older because she knows where I stand with her. Does that make sense? Like, I offer high fives. If she wants hugs, I let her come to me. It’s rare, but I get one every once in awhile.”

Sweatpants & Coffee Editorial Director Julia Park Tracey says, “Both my husband and I had pretty ugly divorces. There was no back and forth with civility. It was always best to stick to the agreement made in court. Any time we wavered, it was ‘give ’em an inch, they’ll take a mile.’ So, we stuck like glue to what we said in court. And that made for some sad holidays for the lonely parent. But it also made new traditions. Because the ex kept all of our ornaments (just out of spite), we got new ones that are traditional, now, 10 years later. And because we had Christmases apart, I started making Christmas Eve a bigger deal and now Christmas Eve is a tradition my kids love (we have a crab feed and games). But when they are old enough to decide (say by 14-15), let the kids choose.”

Have you had the experience of co-parenting through the holiday season? What are some of your tips?

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