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How to handle co-parenting during the holidays after a divorce

Under the best of circumstances, the holidays are a pretty stressful time. There are family visits, trips, presents and big meals to plan for, as well as increased outside social obligations. Although some people get time off from work, that often means a heavier work load the week before and after a major holiday.

For parents with children, the holidays can be incredibly demanding and overwhelming. Co-parenting isn't easy in the best of times. During the holidays, it can feel practically impossible.

When you add a recent divorce to the mix, you're looking at a difficult and potentially frustrating holiday season. Whether you share custody with your ex or one parent has full custody, a little planning can do a lot to make co-parenting simpler during the holidays.

Always put the kids first

Have your kids always woken up in the family home to presents and stuffed stockings? If so, you should do your best to maintain as much of the old family traditions as possible. Spend time thinking about what your kids want and expect from the holidays. You can ask them for input as well. From there, you need to discuss the options with your ex. Ideally, you can both agree on terms regarding holiday events, gift giving and parenting time.

While it can be emotional for either parent to imagine spending Christmas eve or morning without the kids, thinking about the kids' happiness can reduce fighting. Maybe you can even agree to spend part of the holiday together.

Be fair but also be flexible

You should plan ahead. While not every holiday season is the same, there are certain things that you can expect every year. Will you and your ex rotate who has the kids for Christmas eve and Christmas day? What happens if there is going to be a trip out of state to grandma's house?

You should do your best to plan ahead of time for what will happen during the holidays, but you also need to accept that holiday plans can and do change. Being willing to be flexible and work with your ex will not only make the holidays smoother for everyone, it sets a great example for your kids.

Gifts are about the receiver, not the giver

It's all too common for parents to approach post-divorce gift giving like a display of who loves the kids more. In reality, purchasing power has nothing to do with how good of a parent you are. Instead of trying to one-up each other, you and your ex should coordinate on gifts.

That ensures that there are no duplicates. It can also reduce friction or any sense of competition. If both parents work together for the gift-giving aspect of the holidays, the kids will likely enjoy it that much more.

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