5 Ways to Un-Blue Your Co-parenting Holidays

Audrey Cade

By Audrey Cade | Nov 25th, 2018

As much as I eagerly anticipated holiday events, such as Christmas morning, when I was a child, I can honestly say that it’s just as exciting for me as a parent! Motherhood has offered me a whole new level of holiday joy as I prepare for gold star dates on our calendar including making or finding the perfect gifts, planning and preparing a special menu, and decorating for the festivities. Once I had children of my own to play Santa to, the last thing I ever wanted to do was have to share these special times; but, as a divorced parent, that’s exactly how we celebrate the holidays in my family!

Spending time away from the kids during the holidays is definitely one of the most painful and difficult adjustments to make, upon becoming a co-parent. Of course, I want my kids to wake up with me on Christmas morning every year so that I can witness their exuberant charge to the tree to unwrap presents! I also want to ring in every New Year with our traditional spread of appetizers and board games. I want to share the magic of the holiday season with them for every precious moment of it, yet it wasn’t possible because of my divorce.

Several years into our new method of marking important occasions, and I can confidently say we have adjusted, and this is our new “normal.” Our way is not without complications (or sometimes frustrations), but I have learned how to still feel as though we have experienced all the joy the holidays have to offer without being left feeling as though something is missing or “not quite right.”

Do you want to join me in having an un-blue holiday while co-parenting through the season? Here’s how I put the holly jolly back into our holidays:

  1. Even when our time is 50/50, there’s still plenty of time for fun and meaningful moments! No, I can’t always have the kids for the premier holiday moments, nor can I expect to have them all the time, so we make the most of the time we do have, re-create the high points as needed, and we never sulk about what could be! For instance, on a year when the kids will be in their other home on Christmas morning, there is no need for them (or you) to miss out on the excitement of Santa’s big debut in your home. Simply set the stage for the man in red to visit your home in anticipation of them having their turn with you. One mom I know will even re-do the entire experience by acting as though it’s Christmas Eve on whatever day her kids return to her so that the next morning they can all wake up together and live the whole experience together!
  2. Make a list, but not just for gifts I always have a “holiday bucket list” of traditions to complete each year. Making a list of activities to do together will not only help keep you organized, but it will assist in making a game plan to make the most of time spent together. For instance, no holiday season in my home would be complete without trimming the tree, constructing our annual gingerbread village, or watching a marathon of holiday classic movies. When December approaches, I pull out a calendar and my co-parenting schedule to determine when the best times will be to practice our favorite traditions. I can usually jam pack the time over my kids’ holiday break and the time leading up to it with memory-making moments, then they still have the opportunity to live out some special times with their dad, as well.
  3. Do you and don’t worry about the “competition!” Nothing can suck the joy out of a special occasion as fast as worrying about how others are doing it and who’s doing it better. Many divorced parents get caught up in the urge to “outdo” their ex with more expensive and extravagant presents or festivities. The result can be spoiled kids who learn to manipulate parents and miss out on the beauty and true meaning of the holidays. Simply give and do what you are able and willing to do with no apologies, shame, or need to outshine anyone else. The same can be said for the awe-inspiring variety of traditions followed by every family everywhere. You will have special aspects of the holidays to share with your children, and so will your ex, step-parents, and others who are part of your child’s life. I have discovered that children adore the variety of traditions they participate in, and they all become part of their personal tapestry. Nothing can suck the joy out of a special occasion as fast as worrying about how others are doing it and who’s doing it better. My step kids always look forward to eating lasagna with their Italian mother on Christmas Day, but they have also firmly adopted my grandma’s chocolate pie that I make on the holidays. My kids and step kids wouldn’t think it was Christmas without counting down the days with a candy cane on our Santa Claus calendar or exchanging secret Santa gifts with one another. As much as they look forward to the holiday routines we have established, I am confident that they will reenact these traditions with their own families one day!
  4. On the fifth day of Christmas, my ex-husband gave to me flexibility… Not every co-parenting relationship is as harmonious as a favorite holiday carol, but the significance of this season and the need to make it right for the sake of the kids calls for a spirit of cooperation. I love my kids and want to spend every moment with them, but I know their dad does too! Additionally, our kids also want to celebrate the season with both parents, their grandparents, stepfamilies, and others. Sometimes, we have to get creative to make it work! My kids normally come to me every Monday. Our divorce also calls for each parent to have the children for half of Christmas Day. Because Christmas is on Tuesday this year, this meant that, if we went strictly by the schedule, the kids would be with me Monday, return to their dad for part of Tuesday, then come right back to me. My kids were adamant that they want to be in my home at the same time as their step-siblings, which meant they would need to be home with me the afternoon of the 25th. This potential schedule sounded a little chaotic to me, so I proposed a trade to my ex. I suggested that he keep them through Tuesday morning, return them to me on Christmas afternoon, then they would return to him on the afternoon of New Year’s Day. The extra bonus for me in this is that I would get my kids for New Year’s Eve, which wasn’t originally in the cards, but the new arrangement would decrease the potential chaos of bouncing back-and-forth, and the children could have what meant the most to them.   Time away from the kids is the perfect time for holiday prep! I can’t think of many reasons full-time parents may have to envy us divorced parents, but I will say that trying to shop for, wrap, and hide presents with children under the same roof 24/7 just about requires the magic of the North Pole! My non-divorced mommy friends will never know the ease of leaving unwrapped secrets laying out in the open for days at-a-time while being assembled and fine-tuned. It’s just a small thing, but I’ll take perks wherever I can!

The most important thing for all of us to remember, as the holiday season approaches, is that it is supposed to be a sacred time of family and joy. Many of us become stressed by the increased expectations and responsibilities, and the added element of parenting after divorce can add even more pressure and complications.

As with most things in life, time and experience help most of us to smooth the way for co-parenting through the holidays. Just remember not to lose the joy of this special time of year in drama related to schedules, feeling down about missing out on time with the kids, or making comparisons between your home and your ex’s! Your children will treasure the time you spend together, so please remove any pressure that might keep you from enjoying it, as well!

Audrey Cade

Audrey Cade

Audrey Cade is an author and blogger focusing on the interests of divorced and re-married women, stepmoms, blended families, and co-parents.


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