Coordinating Shared Parenting During Holidays

Bundled-up little boy in the backseat of a car, on his way to a parent's house.

Holiday celebrations produce some of the most treasured childhood memories, and as such, we often place considerable emotional value to the seasonal traditions we pass down to little ones year after year. But after a divorce or separation, traditions must be adapted to accommodate new family structures and schedules. The emotional weight of the holidays, though, can make that change particularly difficult to address.

Yet, address them you must! Holidays can take considerable amounts of preparation, so it's vital that co-parents work together as early as possible to create a clear schedule for all upcoming holidays. Thinking about updating beloved traditions that have been celebrated for years may feel heartbreaking. But scrambling as a holiday approaches because you've avoided doing so has the potential to create even more grief.

Avoid miscommunication and conflict by keeping the focus on your family with these 3 essential tips for planning holidays year-round.

Define essential holidays clearly and comprehensively

Every family has their own unique holiday schedule. Within each family, co-parents may even have their own individual approach to annual holidays and celebrations. You may have a particular attachment to Labor Day, for example, while your co-parent simply views it as just another 3-day weekend. Defining which holidays will be included in your special planning, and whether or not each holiday is celebrated by both co-parents, is the first step in building a comprehensive holiday schedule.

Before the season begins, parents should reflect critically on which holidays are most important to them individually. When parents are separated, there will always be some give and take involved, so both parents will have to make compromises.

If you find yourself in a situation where one holiday is of particular importance to both you and your co-parent, stay open-minded and think of cooperative solutions that will allow both of you to celebrate with your children. That could mean splitting a day between the two of you if location permits it. Or, using New Year's as an example, one parent celebrating with their children New Year's Eve while the other holds their festivities on New Year's Day.

Create your holiday blueprint

Once you and your co-parent have laid out the holidays and celebrations that will be included in your schedule, it's time to start planning how they will be shared between the two of you. This often necessitates thinking multiple years in advance, as many co-parents trade off having their children with them on certain holidays year by year.

Compromise and flexibility are both keys to this step. Try to avoid approaching the assignation of holidays with a tit-for-tat mindset. The number of holiday days you and your co-parent each have may not be exactly equal down to the minute, but that does not necessarily mean the schedule is poorly built.

After you and your co-parent have agreed to a holiday schedule, document it immediately on a shared calendar. On OurFamilyWizard, co-parents can use the holiday planner tool created specifically for this purpose. Using this tool, parents can assign their holiday schedule on top of their normal parenting plan so that any special adjustment made for the holiday will be kept on record for both parents to access.

Prepare yourself and your children as holidays approach

As holidays draw near, your child, who is likely starting to feel very excited for the upcoming celebration, will want to know where they will be spending the holiday. It's important to help them understand their holiday schedule well in advance so they are not surprised by events. Talk to them early about where they will be spending time on each major holiday, answering any questions and calming any concerns that may arise. Make a point to remind them periodically of holiday arrangements as dates approach, too.

You may also have to prepare yourself for holidays as they approach, especially if they involve major changes to how you're used to spending them. On holidays when you are not celebrating with your children, having a plan in place can make a big difference. Whether that's seeking out extended family and friends or planning soothing activities for a quiet day in, plan something for yourself so you're not left focusing on being apart from your children.

Holidays and special occasions happen year-round, and co-parents will have to be diligent in preparing each other, themselves, and their children for any upcoming festivities. Co-parents should make a point to have discussions about how they will handle holidays as early as possible, making sure to consult their parenting plan for specific instructions concerning how festivities are to be scheduled. Changing how you celebrate the holidays may feel strange at first, but with preparation and a positive outlook, they can still be a source of joy for you and your children.