Pro Advice For Successful Co-Parenting During The Holiday Season

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As a co-parent myself, I know we are all hyper-aware that the holiday season is upon us.

For some of us, we are looking forward to it to hopefully fill some empty spaces that 2020 left us with because obviously, there were many.

And for others, it’s always been a difficult time — no one likes seeing their kids leave to play out holiday traditions without them — and this year it’s extra heavy.

Parenting with someone you aren’t in a relationship with is taxing even in the best of circumstances. But when there’s a global pandemic happening, not being on the same page with our kids’ other parent can make us feel out of control, anxious, and depressed.

The holidays are going to accentuate that for sure. This is something we’ve never been through before, and our kids haven’t had to live it either. It’s going to be hard for some of them to understand why we won’t be able to do some of their beloved traditions.

If you were still with the other parent, it might be easier to deal with since you have a sense of partnership and someone to vent to whenever you need it. But handling holidays during the pandemic as a divorced or un-partnered person, and trying to have good communication with the person you are co-parenting with, absolutely needs a handbook of sorts — and we are here to help.

Scary Mommy talked with Sarah Bennett, a Family Law Attorney at Sodoma Law, via email. Bennett gave us some great advice and tips to share as we try and pedal our way up this enormous hill known as the holidays during a pandemic as a single parent.

Um, that’s quite the title — so remember if you don’t feel like yourself and you are struggling through all this, not sure if you are going to make it, that’s because this is a whole other level of difficulty.

You are entitled to feel all the feelings, cry all the tears, and eat all the chocolates. And hey, that doesn’t mean you are giving up or that you don’t care about the holidays this year. It means you are human.

Bennett says the most important thing to remember is to put your differences aside and listen to your kids — to them, holidays are everything, hence the saying “Like a kid on Christmas morning.”

A great tip from Bennett is to prepare early, even if you don’t want to think about it right now. Think about the long game — the ease it will bring to your life to have a plan in advance, and the benefits it will give to your child. “Children prepare their wish lists well in advance of the holiday season and parents should do the same: communicate with each other as early as possible regarding plans for celebrations, activities, and gift-giving to prevent any scheduling snafus or other disagreements from getting in the way of holiday magic.”

So, while it may be a dicey situation to talk with your ex, it will be best for everyone if you do. Keep it all business, communicate through text only, or have a mediator. Whatever works for you to sort out the details of how this holiday is going to go so you can both come to an agreement before something goes wrong, can make a huge difference.

My ex-husband and I always get details about the holidays taken care of before Halloween. That way, we can enjoy all of the holidays, let the kids know what the plan is (they count too, and also like to know what the hell is going on well in advance) and try really hard to stick to what we have said.

For instance, this year he’s not traveling with the kids on Thanksgiving like he normally does and I feel a lot better about that.

Bennett highly suggests talking about everything with your ex, from family gatherings, to travel plans, to where you are going to spend the holiday, since 2020 is a very different year.

After you’ve talked about the plans, a great way to hold each other accountable and help is to have a shared iCal, Google, or Outlook calendar. “These are great communication tools parents can utilize to ensure holiday co-parenting success by reducing scheduling mix-ups,” she says.

It’s important for everyone to avoid bickering and fighting at all costs, especially this year. Our kids deserve to have a holiday experience that feels semi-normal and happy. Bennett suggests including them in the conversation and asking them about some things they’d like to do and trying to come up with some creative plans together.

In my house, we always decorated our tree on a Friday night and ordered pizza. I give the kids an ornament to hang on the tree. I also get them Christmas pajamas that they open every year on Christmas Eve night. Those traditions were the most important to them, and having my ex-husband hear it from them ensured they got to do everything they wanted in both households.

We can’t forget about taking care of ourselves as parents, especially this year. Bennett says making sure we get enough sleep, eating as reasonably healthy as possible, exercising, and focusing on the positive, will help co-parents stay refreshed and energized to maximize the fun during holiday celebrations, no matter how small.

If your holiday parenting schedule involves time away from your children, use those solo days to check in with other family and friends so you can make sure to celebrate with all the special people in your life.

“Most importantly, remember to give yourself a break. Despite what social media depicts, no one’s holiday season is perfect. Prioritize the activities, events, and traditions you and your children actually enjoy versus what looks good on Instagram, and your holiday season will be truly memorable for the whole family,” says Bennett.

And I have to throw something in there as a co-parent myself who puts a strong emphasis on the holidays: expect that it’s going to be different this year, and let that be okay. And, even if you don’t want to do it, talk to your ex about the things that are important to you now, so you can move ahead and enjoy this time of year as much as possible.

It’s a gift you should give yourself — and your kids — because you truly deserve it.

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