Once again, the Christmas season is upon us. Being separated or divorced can present a lot of challenges around the holidays, especially when children are involved. While every separation and divorce are unique, there are some ways to help you – and your ex – get through the holiday season.

If you share custody of your children, the best way to get through the holiday season is to make a written plan that you can easily refer to. Hopefully, you and your ex can create a plan you can agree on, that is easy to implement, and fair to all involved. While it’s best if you can do this amicably, in my case we were not agreeable. It was only when I got legal representation that I was able to get the framework I needed to build on. 

Smiling little girl building a tower of snowballs while walking on the playground on a winter snowy day

Start With a Basic Framework

Getting an established and regular yearly schedule is an important routine. This will provide the whole family with peace of mind and allow everyone to enjoy the season. A basic plan that’s simple to follow helps you navigate the holiday season more easily and will help provide stability for your children.

When I went through a divorce it was not initially agreeable, as mentioned. But we’ve come a long way and we’re continually progressing toward greater harmony. We now alternate the first half of Christmas break with one parent and the second half with the other, alternating who gets the first half each year. This works for us, but while it may not work for you there are some things you can do that will help when planning.

  • Give yourself at least 6 months out to plan. We start to plan at the beginning of each new year. This gives us time to coordinate, not only Christmas but summer vacations too.
  • Plan to be flexible. Good communication is important for this, and I will go into this more, shortly.
  • Give children freedom as they get older. As teens, our children now go to either house during the day to hang out with friends.

Respectable and Flexible

Respect really helps the holidays go over smoothly and flexibility is a big part of navigating the holidays when parents are divorced.

  • Respect each other’s time. If you want to make changes to a schedule that will influence the other parent’s time, make sure to ask first and be considerate of what is scheduled on their time. For example, my ex once had some out-of-town family during my time so we swapped a couple of days so they could all spend time together.
  • If my ex wants to drop off the children Christmas night rather than boxing day so her house can sleep in the next day, I tend to agree to it.
  • Keeping track of compromises and concessions is important when requesting changes that benefit you. What goes around, comes around but only if everyone remembers it. Keep a written record to ensure things don’t become unbalanced.

Keeping The Devil Out Of Divorce Details

We celebrate Christmas, and the season is busy. There are many details that can build up and weigh you down, especially in separated and divorced families with kids. Here are some things to remember

  • Put your children first. Do not put them between the parents and do not let any issues between you and your ex become their issues.
  • Consider your children’s other relationships with grandparents, stepparents, and other close family relations like aunts, uncles, and even friends. 
  • Consider any family that comes in from out of town. You may be separated or divorced from your ex and their family, but your kids are not.
  • Be considerate about travel. One of you may be traveling out of the region, province, or country with your children. Ensure there is a fair time to travel and allow for when things go wrong like travel delays, lost luggage, etc. Before my kids got phones, I would provide the contact info of any family or hotels in case of an emergency. 
  • Coordinate your time with stepfamilies. Many divorcees are remarried and there may be many children in these blended families. It’s important to recognize that kids, like my children, have a deep bond with these family members too.
  • Coordinate what each of you has planned for the children to avoid duplicate gifts and to ensure the technologies work together when giving digital games and devices.  
  • Don’t get into an upstaging battle of gifts, your children are not a competition to be won but people to be appreciated and loved.
A woman is packing a Christmas present. Decorating gifts.

Working out Solutions

Communication is key. There is so much going on throughout the holidays that it helps to know what is going on, where, and when. Here are some quick tips on how you can try and navigate numerous events during the holiday season.

  • Splitting the Christmas season: My ex and I have a final order that splits holidays 50/50 and alternates Christmases. One of us generally takes the first 8 days, and then the other takes the remainder. Find what works for you and get it written into an order.
  • Discuss plans directly. If you are amicable enough and can do this by phone or text that’s great. My ex and I communicate through email and use a shared google calendar, not just for Christmas but for our entire parenting schedule.
  • As children get older, they will have their social life, phones, and their own digital calendars.  Include them in the google calendar so they are fully aware of what is happening and can therefore also plan their own lives.
  • Discuss and work out a holiday schedule with your spouse/partner. The holidays involve them, and they and their family should not be ignored in planning.  
  • Discuss a gifting strategy so children do not end up getting duplicate gifts at both houses. A shared list of gift ideas on google sheets is a great way to do this. You can also include gifts extended families are giving. 
  • Always allow your kids to talk to and call the family of either parent. You may be separated or divorced from your former partner’s family, but your children are not.
  • If google apps won’t work for you and your ex, there are also some great apps like coparently or one of the many other co-parenting apps available.

There is no one right way, but I do hope sharing what I have learned so far helps you to navigate through the holidays and makes the season a little easier for you and your kids. 

Merry Christmas,

Calvin Richards