12 Ways to Successfully Co-Parent During the Holidays

12 Ways to Successfully Co-Parent During the Holidays

Breakups can be incredibly hard.  Breakups when you share children can seem unbearable.  But the best gift that you can give your children is the gift of two parents who get along and work together, especially during the holidays.

Something about the holiday season brings out the best and the worst in people.  We give Toys for Tots, take a name from the Angel Tree, and maybe even serve in the soup kitchen.  We purchase gifts for everyone we know, possibly even the men who collect the trash.  But the same season can bring out the worst of us, especially in a co-parenting situation.  Instead of extending the same grace and kindness to the other parent, some can turn the holidays into a competition for who gives the best presents or a manipulation to get their kids for longer than is court-ordered.

This is not good for our children.  We know this.  But how do we change?   How do we effectively co-parent during the holidays?  How can we put our children first instead of ourselves?

In a moment, I will suggest 12 specific actions that you as a parent can take to improve your co-parenting during the holidays. But first, be prepared to change your mindset entirely.

Do not think about what is best for YOU.  Think about what is best for your child.  Make it your goal this holiday season to make it the best for your CHILD.

If that means that your ex gets to spend extra time with your child, do it.

If that means that you don't get credit for all of the gifts you bought, so be it.

If that means that you put hurt feelings and the past aside to enjoy a meal together, go for it.  

So, now that your head is in the game, here are 12 Ways to Successfully Co-Parent During the Holidays:

1. Gift-Giving Collaboration

While I don't think you have to go over every single gift that you are giving with each other, it is helpful to at least go over the big ones.  While duplicates aren't necessarily bad (one for each house), no one really wants to be the giver whose gifts disappoint.

You could even go the extra mile if the other parent is struggling financially and put both names (Mom and Dad) on the gifts that you give to your kids so it doesn't look like one parent did more than the other.

Santa gifts are also helpful to talk over, and it may be that paying for those gifts together is more beneficial to your children.  For example, in my family, I may pay for the Santa items that will stay at my house, while my girls' dad pays for the items that stay at his house.  This way they can get a little more from Santa than they would if I were paying for it by myself.

2. Be Flexible With Schedules

Please don't misunderstand me.  I am NOT saying to be manipulative and take more time than you are supposed to have with your children at the holidays.  Not at all.

However, switching weekends could be beneficial to both of you.  For instance, say your kids' dad has his company Christmas party on his weekend with the kids, and there is another weekend that it would work for you to give him.  Why not switch with him so he can have more time to spend with the kids on his time?  Granted, you don't have to sacrifice a bad weekend for you, but if you can make it work, why not?

My kids' dad and I plan this crazy season between Thanksgiving and Christmas by comparing our schedules to see which weekends it would be best for each of us to have the kids.  It made more sense to do that from the get-go than to stick to a stringent schedule that didn't take any conflicts into account.

 3. Keep the Other Parent in the Loop

It really frustrates me when I hear of a parent (usually the one who has the kids the majority of the time) who leaves the other parent out of important events.  WHY DO THIS??

Who do you think it hurts when your child is singing in a Christmas Pageant and Dad isn't there because he didn't know?  Your child.  It hurts your child.

Do not be petty when it comes to your children's father.  It will hurt them long after the glee of sticking it to him has worn off.

 4. Save Him  a Seat

Unless there is some crazy situation (Domestic Violence, etc).  Can't you be a grown-up and sit next to your ex?  This way your child only has to look one place to see both parents.

If you grew up with both parents, this is something that you probably took for granted.  Don't rob your child of that.

Plus, as your co-parenting relationship gets better, you will probably find yourself laughing with your ex as you watch your child shine.

5. Take Photos Together

This is an important one for me.

After that performance that you BOTH attended, hopefully together, take a "family" photo for your child to keep.

So many adults do not have a single photo of both of their parents with them.  Don't let that be your child.

If that seems too over-the-top, check out my argument for taking "family" photos with your kids' other parent HERE.

 6. Help Each Other Out with Christmas Shopping

Buying Christmas presents is a lot of work.  Can I get an Amen?

Staying in budget, physically getting the gift, wrapping it.  It's exhausting.  

If the other parent is struggling to get everything done for the kids, why not offer to help?  For example, one year, my kids' dad lived in California.  He was flying where we live in Fort Mill to see the kids Christmas morning, but I knew that it would be a pain for him to take gifts on a plane, so I offered to get the gifts for him and wrap them if he would send me the money for them.  He did, and it worked out perfectly.

Even if you just offer to pick up a toy that you see while you're out for your kids' other parent to give, that small gesture can make a big difference in your co-parenting relationship.

7. Invite the Other Parent for Christmas Morning

This one is for those who have Christmas morning on "their" time.  For me, it is actually every year (my kids' dad was very nice to give it to me).  I decided that I wanted my kids to have both parents there when they saw what Santa brought them, just like my parents were for me.

So, every year, he comes super early on Christmas morning and we wait for the kids to wake up.  When they do, we are both there to capture their joy as they see their presents from Santa.

If the other parent doesn't want to come quite that early, it is still nice to extend the invitation for later.  

What if your kids' other parent has a Significant Other?  What if you do?  I say invite everyone!  The more the merrier.  After all, it's Christmas, and anyone who loves your children should be welcome.

Last year, after the gift opening, my kids' dad, my boyfriend at the time, myself, and the kids all had a laser tag fight.  I call that a co-parenting win.

8. Busy Yourself When the Kids are with the Other Parent

This is as much for the kids as it is for you.

It will make you a better parent to them, because you won't be bitter and sad.  It will help your relationship with your kids' other parent, because you will be more encouraging of their time together.

So what do you do to keep busy?  Come on, it's the holidays!  What can't you do?  Go to an adult party without having to worry about a sitter.  Do some kid-free Christmas shopping.  Have a glass of wine while you watch adult Christmas movies and wrap presents.  Get those stress knots worked out by a masseuse. 

When you want to have a pity party, just remember that most of your friends who have their kids with them all the time would love a little kid-free holiday fun that didn't cost a small fortune.

This will allow you to do #9 without going insane. 

9. Refrain from Constantly Calling Your Kids

Yes, I know you want to know how little Johnny is doing at dad's.  I get it.  But let him enjoy time with Dad without your calls every .5 seconds.

While a once a day check-in is fine (although I personally think it's a little too often), more than that is infringing on the other parents' time.  Would you want constant calls when the kids are with you?

Instead, send the other parent cute pics when the kids are with you, and he/she will likely reciprocate.  My kids' dad and I do this all the time, but I talk to my children once every other day at the most when they are with him.

10. Respect Traditions at the Other House

Everyone celebrates the holidays differently.  Remember that even if whatever traditions your kids' other parent may have at his house may seem strange to you, they are going to be the traditions your kid grows up with.

For instance: Maybe your kids' dad takes the kids to a Christmas Eve service and he never did that when you were together.  If your kids tell you about it, be positive in your responses.  Or if dad does Elf on the Shelf and you don't want to do it, that's fine, but don't be irritated that he does.

Likewise, don't force traditions on the other parent.  Maybe when you were all together, you went to see a light show every year and it was a special time.  If he doesn't take the kids to the light show, that's okay if he doesn't continue that tradition.  His house, his time, his traditions.

11. Get a Gift for the Significant Other

If your kids' dad is seriously dating (or just casually dating but the kids know her), and especially if he is remarried, get the significant other a gift from the kids.  Unless she is mean to your children, she likely helps take care of them when the kids are with their dad, so appreciate and recognize her for that.  

12. Keep Family Gatherings Positive About the Other Parent

The holidays bring plenty of scenarios where family and friends will be gathered together and chatting.  Unfortunately, some families use this time as an opportunity to put down or bash the other parent.  Yes, I know that your family may not like your ex.  He probably did things to hurt you (and you probably did things to hurt him too).  Still, he is your kids' dad.  Your kids do not need to be put in a position to hear bad things about their parent, so the best thing you can do is to shut those conversations down.

How do you do that?  

Explain that your kids' relationship with their dad is your top priority and that you have worked hard to get along with him.  Compliment the things he does right to them. (Is he a great dad?  Does he go out of his way to help you?  Does he do fun things with the kids?)  By modeling a positive attitude towards your kids' father, you are showing them how you choose to think of him.

If they continue to talk badly about him (especially in front of the children), let them know that if you can get over the things he has done, they can too.

Unfortunately, some people are negative, critical, and love to start drama.  If you have people in your life who continually bash your child's father in front of them, it may be time to consider spending the holidays elsewhere.


As you can see, it only takes a bit of effort and time to help your co-parenting efforts succeed through the holiday season.  A little really does go a long way to making this time of year a happy one for your kids, yourself, and your kids' dad.  

Here's to making new happy memories this season!


A Sustainable Christmas: Three Tips For Calming The Christmas Chaos

A Sustainable Christmas: Three Tips For Calming The Christmas Chaos

The Four Gifts

The Four Gifts