By Chelsea Towler Campbell, PsyD

The holidays represent a magical time of year filled with family, traditions, gifts, and celebration. However, there can also be a lot of stress associated with the holidays, especially if you are trying to collaborate with a co-parent. It is important for your children that you learn to manage this stress so you can keep the magic alive during the holiday season. The following strategies will help you and your former spouse collaborate and communicate about the holidays in a healthy way.

1.  Establish a plan for the holidays. The first thing you’ll want to do is consult with the parenting plan you have established with your former spouse. This plan is created to help minimize confusion around splitting the holidays. Don’t try to disrupt the plan by asking your children who they’d rather spend the holidays with – this puts them in an impossible position where they are trying to choose between the two most important people in their lives. If you are planning a vacation that involves changing the parameters of your parenting plan, try to compromise with your former spouse so that your vacation doesn’t subtract from his or her time with the children. Also make sure to set aside time for your children to talk with your former spouse while they are spending time with you.

2. Talk about gifts with your former spouse. Gifts are often a central element of the holiday season, and it is okay to get excited about giving your kids gifts they will love. However, this is not a time to get competitive with your former spouse by trying to outdo one another in gift giving. This will most likely lead to conflict, which will ultimately hurt the children. Avoid this competition by talking to your former spouse about what gifts you plan to give. This will ensure equality between the two households, which will subsequently eliminate any comparison or competition.

3. Talk about feelings. It is difficult to let go of old traditions and establish new traditions during the holidays. It is likely both you and your children will be feeling some amount of grief about the changes associated with splitting holidays between two households. Make sure you talk to your kids and normalize the disappointment, sadness, and anger they may be feeling about these changes. Also make sure to take care of yourself as you manage your own feelings about these changes. Talk to friends and family, and also try to establish a plan for how you will spend holidays when your children are with your former spouse.

4. Keep the magic alive. Although this may feel like a time marked by grief and loss, it can also be an opportunity to establish new traditions and celebrations with your children. This will help show your kids that the holidays can still be fun and exciting, even if you are celebrating in a new way. Try to find fun new activities that both you and your kids can get excited about – bake a new special treat, listen to holiday music, take a drive to view holiday lights around town – show your children that the holidays continue to be magical and exciting, even when changes take place in the family.

5. Focus on the children. As you are managing your own stress around the holidays, try to keep your focus on your children. Think about what is in their best interest. Try not to let your own expectations and feelings override your children’s wants and needs surrounding the holidays. It may be in their best interest to go on a vacation with your former spouse, or to visit your former spouse’s family. Even though it will be difficult to lose this special time with them, keeping your focus on your children’s happiness is paramount. Always remind them that you love them unconditionally and you want what is best for them.