Tips & Tricks To Setting Holiday Ground Rules For Divorced Parents Sharing Custody

ground rulesIt’s that time of year again. Lights are being stapled to rooftops, gift cards are being purchased by the dozens, and moms everywhere are tired already just thinking about all of the baked goods that need to be made. And if you’re a separated or divorced parent, there’s one more super fun item to add to the to-do list. You need to sit down with your ex and iron out the holiday calendar.

It’s never easy. Every parent wants to spent these special times with their kids. Every family has their own traditions and festivities that they want to squeeze in. Then there’s the never-ending cycle of extended relatives who all expect to get a little face time in the next month and a half. If your family is anything like mine, you could take vacation time for the whole month of December, put every other aspect of your life on hold, and still not have enough space to squeeze in all the activities, parties, and get togethers being thrown your way.

With all of that in mind, here are a few ways to make it easier for co-parents to come together and reach a consensus. I’m not promising that if you follow these tips, you’ll have a drama-free holiday. Drama-free holidays are impossible. But this might make it a bit easier for everyone involved, including your kids. And aren’t they the ones we’re worried about?

  • Separate the days, not the hours. It’s so tempting to say, “You have Thanksgiving until three p.m. and I’ll have dinner after that.” But breaking up the day is a slippery, dangerous slope. For one thing, it makes it so tempting to start carving up the time: Grandpa K’s until noon, Mom’s for a couple hours, dinner at Aunt Jane’s, evening at Grandma C’s…. Before you know it, no one has had any time to enjoy themselves. Even worse, one long lunch or unforeseen delay throws the entire day into ruin and gets plenty of attitudes involved. Make things simpler. Keep the days in tact.
  • Make some lists. Both parents can make a list of what days are most important to them. My mother-in-law is all about Christmas Eve, because she wants us to attend Mass together. My mom doesn’t care so much about the day itself, she just wants you to be there all day long. You and your partner both have days that mean a lot to you. Figure out what those are and then try to find ways to make the most happy on both lists.
  • Don’t forget all the “set up.” In our family, the holidays are a whole lot more than one morning opening gifts. There’s cutting down the Christmas tree, baking cookies, shopping day, building gingerbread houses. All of that stuff takes up time, and it needs to be planned on the calendar in advance.
  • Listen to your child. If your little one is old enough to have an input, then you need to give them the opportunity. It’s not just what aspects of the holiday season are most important to you, it’s what they treasure the most. So make sure to talk to your kids about what they don’t want to miss out on.
  • Make a family calendar and stick to it. There should be one calendar and you all should share it. (Try an online shared calendar system. They’re wonderful!) Once that calendar has been set, it’s really important to honor it. Don’t start trading this day for that. Don’t start making excuses to move something back. You could end up with a week before Christmas and a hundred things you want to do without nearly the time to do it all.
  • Enjoy the time you have. Don’t sit around being angry that your partner got Christmas morning this year. Yes, it’s hard not to be there on that special day. But if you’re just whining about what you’re missing, you won’t have time to appreciate all the wonderful traditions you have time for. What’s more, you don’t want your child to feel guilty for going to your ex’s house and having a good time. Let them know that you’re excited for them and that you’ll be just fine until they get home.

(Photo: Ekkachai/Shutterstock)

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