When you’re raising children with an ex-partner, you quickly realize that for your kids, a lot of things end up doubled. The logistics of having two separate holiday gatherings for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year and more comes with plenty of added stress. Scheduling, and shuttling children back and forth between homes, takes away from actual family time. It’s a necessity in some cases (when parents are not seeing eye-to-eye) – but not every divorced pair has to plan separate holiday gatherings.
Before you reject the idea, take a moment to consider it.
It may seem slightly unconventional, but for some divorced couples, doing the holidays together makes the most sense — for their children’s well-being. Rather than two separate gatherings, divorced parents find a way to put the past aside, and celebrate all together. It takes some mental preparation and some compromise from both sides, but it’s possible to pull it off.
If you think you and your ex can amicably make a co-parented holiday gathering happen, here are some tips to set it in motion:
Make It About the Kids
This seems obvious enough, but sometimes the best intentions get in the way. In the process of planning (and potentially over-planning), parents can forget that the simplest of holiday celebrations are often the most memorable. Don’t plan doubles of every single activity just because there are two parents, or try to one-up your co-parent. Work together to come up with an uncomplicated, simple holiday celebration. Let each other make decisions, and keep the end results focused on what the kids will enjoy and remember.
“Divorce” Your Old Traditions
It doesn’t do anyone good to act like nothing has changed in the family dynamic. Your family unit is different than it was in the past, so don’t pretend otherwise. If there are a few traditions that your kids really love, stick with them, or decide which parent gets to do each one. Aside from choosing a couple of favorites, institute some new traditions that aren’t associated with memories of the past. Go to a new holiday event, or open a gift early on a brand new day. Cook a new meal, or find a way to volunteer all together. Don’t get stuck in a past rut; start new traditions that reflect your new family outlook and lifestyle.
Act Like an Adult
If any tension should arise during the holiday celebration, make a point to choose to take the high road. Ignore the situation, or find a way to discreetly handle it so the kids aren’t bothered. Prepare yourself mentally for speed bumps that could occur — and try to make a rule for yourself that during the holiday season, you will not sweat the small stuff (or, even some of the medium stuff). If there are issues that need addressing, wait until later to bring them up. Even the happiest family gatherings can hit a snag; roll with it, and keep your kids’ happiness and experience at the forefront of your mind.
The sight of your ex may make you want to reach for that beer (or something stiffer), but it’s better to do your drinking on your non-family time. Alcohol impairs judgment – that’s a fact, not a theory. It’s not worth risking an argument, or saying things you don’t mean, in front of your kids. Even if you trust yourself to drink a reasonable amount, for this particular event, you can be a calmer and more mature role model for your children if you abstain. Make a point to plan an adult outing soon after your holiday celebration, with some of your close friends or family members — there you can kick back, and release any of your holiday-related (or ex-related) stress away from your children’s eyes and ears.
Keep It Small
If either you or your ex has remarried, of course that spouse (and any other children) should participate — but beyond that, keep the co-parented portion of the holidays tight-knit. The more people and personalities involved, the greater the chance of arguments and tension. It’s also harder to concentrate on your kids when you’re busy entertaining other people. There is a time and place for larger family gatherings, but if you want to try a co-parented, combined activity, leave out the extra people. Allow yourself to focus on your immediate family only, and watching your kids’ happiness as they celebrate with both parents nearby.
The holiday season is a time for reflection, appreciation, and connection with your family. If you think you can make a co-parented gathering happen, reach out to your ex and ask. It’s not for everyone — but if you can make it work, your kids will love that you are all together, and neither parent will miss any precious holiday memories.