(Inside: The hardest part of coparenting is spending holidays without the kids. These are the best ways to keep the holidays special when your ex has the kids.)
Maybe you get every Christmas, and he gets every Easter. Maybe he gets Thanksgiving on odd years, while you keep the kids on even years. Maybe you keep the kids until 2, and then they stay the night at his house.
However you have holidays set up in your parenting plan, if you’re coparenting through the holidays, you will almost definitely spend a fair share of your holidays without the kids.
This can be heartbreaking.
In our parenting plan we split some holidays down the middle of the day, while others we do odd/even, and still others we keep every single year.
For example, I get the kids for Cookie Day every year, and my ex-husband has them for every Easter.
It’s really difficult to spend holidays away from your kids, and it becomes even more difficult when you have other children in the home who don’t leave.
We’ve spent a few years navigating these tricky situations, and while I’m no expert, these are a few things we’ve found to help us keep the holidays special when Mr. C and A-Man are with my ex-husband.
5 Simple Steps to Keep the Holidays Special When Your Ex Has the Kids
Have the Holiday Another Day
This can be one of the most simple ways to feel like you still get to spend the holiday with your kids even when you don’t really.
We do this primarily for Father’s Day. See, that’s a holiday that the kids are with my ex every year (unless he’s working). But Chris raises all of our kids, and he definitely needs to have a day that celebrates that, so we’ve created “Daddy’s Day”. It usually happens the weekend before or after Father’s Day. It means that both of the boys’ dads get a special day just for them.
We’ve also done Thanksgiving the Monday before the holiday because that’s what worked best for our family, and in our area there’s a “Third of July” fireworks show that we could go to if the boys were with my ex for the Fourth.
Whatever your holiday may be, consider if it would be simple to do all of the fun activities on a different day without ruining the fun of the holiday.
Make a New Tradition
This is one of my favorite ways to handle the holidays and keep them special when coparenting. Find a way to have a fun tradition surrounding holidays that kids can look forward to.
For us? We have a special birthday meal on the kids birthdays with all three parents. It’s a chance for the kids to have everyone around while they’re celebrated.
We also started waking kiddos up in the middle of the night on their birthdays and giving them a bite of cake! It’s really fun, and while my kiddos are still pretty young to remember it, I’m looking forward to keeping this as they grow older.
This can also help if you have a tradition for the holidays they’re gone.
The boys go to their bio-dad’s house in the afternoon on Christmas and spend the night. Instead of lounging around being sad that the boys were gone, Chris and I took Cap’n M and Miss S to a movie. We wanted to keep Christmas Day special for them and us.
Stay Enthusiastic About Their Holiday
This might be the most important tip in this entire post.
Please. Please. Please do not accidentally ruin your kids holiday because you’ll be sad that you don’t get to spend it with them.
Smile when you talk to them about going to your ex’s house. Of course, you can say that you’ll miss them, but make sure you paint it in a positive light. “Oh we’ll miss you, but I’m sure you’ll have so much fun!”
Then when they come home and want to tell you every detail, do your best to be excited with them. Even if you’re seething that your ex got them a crazy expensive gift that you both agreed not to get or they took them to that movie that you already told him you were taking them to.
Your kid doesn’t need to see that bitterness from you.
I know it can be hard, especially if you’re the full time parent while they’re the “fun parent” but please try to stay positive that your kids at least had a great time. You can of course talk to your ex about those issues, but try to do it without the kids.
Keep It Special For All the Kids
It can be really difficult to know what to do when you have other kids who don’t leave for holidays.
- Do you do the holiday on another day and not celebrate at all on the real day?
- Do you do the holiday twice?
- Do you do some holiday activities with the kids at home on the day, then more activities when all the kids are home?
It is a really tough decision. On one hand, you don’t want your kids away from home to feel like they’re being left out of family activities. On the other, you don’t want the kids at home to feel like their siblings get to leave and continue the fun while they sit at home doing nothing.
I like to take this on a holiday-by-holiday basis.
For Christmas we do something special with the kids at home while the others are with my ex. We do it because we know that the boys are having a blast with their bio-dad and his side of the family, so we should be doing something fun too.
But for Daddy’s Day, we have all of the kids celebrate together instead of doing half Father’s Day and half on Daddy’s Day.
With Easter because we don’t have the boys, we’ll celebrate with Cap’n M and Miss S, and get the boys a small gift for when they come home.
Ask the Kids Their Preference
This is especially helpful if your kids are a bit older, but you can ask younger kids as well.
I’m not saying that your kids should have the final say on how you handle holidays in your split-parent family, but I do think it’s valuable to know their preference and consider it in making the final decision.
Maybe your kids would prefer to have Thanksgiving on a separate day with the whole family. Maybe they’d prefer some other creative arrangement. Maybe they’d rather have two separate birthday dinners versus one big one.
Giving your kids some say in the decision can help them feel more in control of their situation, and they’re more likely to see the arrangement as a positive thing.
I’ll also add, please give all of the kids a say in the decision.
It is not fair for the kids with two houses to demand that their siblings miss out on holidays without those kids having any say in the decision.
Again, my kids are still small. Also, we have a fairly unique situation in that we are very civil with my ex, and we even share several holidays each year.
I am just a coparenting mama who is obsessed with holidays. I want to make sure that all of my kids have the best holidays that they possibly can. And I’m sure you want the same thing.
The Co-Parents’ Handbook: Raising Well-Adjusted, Resilient, and Resourceful Kids in a Two-Home Family from Little Ones to Young AdultsHow To Be Amazingly Awesome Co-Parents: The Playbook Every Parent Needs to Succeed in the GameCo-Parents Forever: Parent Plans That Work for Children and TeensCo-Parent Successfully: A Guide to Raising Children in Two Different HousesThe Co-Parent Tool Box: Tools for remodeling your co-parent relationship after divorce or separationThe Co-Parenting Survival Guide: Letting Go of Conflict After a Difficult DivorceParenting After Divorce: A Guide for Co-Parenting After Divorce (Divorce and Children)Parents Working Together After Divorce and Separation: a Co-Parenting Journal
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