How Divorced Parents Can Create Joyful Holidays with Young Kids

Struggling to find peace, love, and joy as you navigate the holidays after splitting up with your spouse or partner? If you’re co-parenting, especially young children, there are lots of reasons to work toward peaceful solutions. Of course, that’s not always easy, but the key to helping your kids cope with your break-up is to model healthier, happier relationships.

One thing all the research on the impact of divorce on children all has in common is the finding that divorce is not what truly harms kids. In fact, kids can thrive after their parents separate – especially when both parents are modeling healthy relationships. But what really is damaging to children is when ex-couples continue to fight without constructive resolution or when parents put their kids in the middle of their conflict. When parents can co-parent peacefully, children thrive.

In this blog, I outline ways you and your co-parent can make the holidays joyful, or at least a lot less stressful, for your children.

Don’t ask your child about what happens at the other parent’s home 

There’s a difference between probing into the other parent’s life and showing interest in what your child tells you on their own. If your child wants to share, it will come out naturally. You may not like some of the things your ex does or agree with their parenting style. But you can only control what parenting looks like at your home. The happier, healthier home you provide, the better your kids will do.

Don’t fight over one holiday

If your ex really wants Christmas Eve this year, it might be better for everyone’s mental health if you say yes. You’ll earn ‘good will’ which goes a long way in building trust with your ex (especially if trust and emotional triggers were at an all-time low during your break-up). Perhaps if they demand one holiday, you can choose another, such as New Year’s Eve.

Remember, the actual date of the holiday is just a date. You can create your own rules. Celebrate anything and everything, regardless of what “day” it is – or what the rest of society happens to be doing.

Keep holiday routines 

As much as possible, it’s good to retain your traditions and the routines you had to celebrate the holidays. Sure, they might look a little different, be on a different day, and not involve all the same people – but the closer you can keep things “normal” and predictable, the better (unless your child demands a change). Routines and rituals help kids feel stable and secure, safe and loved.

Make sure you both get quality time with your children

Your kids are going to want to see both of their parents during the holidays. Make sure they get that time, and that they know you want them to enjoy the time they spend with your ex. Ensure that children have unfettered access to both parents, however that needs to happen. If your child wants to Facetime with the other parent, let them! 

Even if one of you has more custodial rights or one parent shows a lot more effort, kids need time with both parents – and they shouldn’t feel like they need to decide who, when, and where. Kids can’t feel like they have to compartmentalize their emotions or lives, or that they need to choose sides. Just because they have two households doesn’t mean they have two lives. It’s important for them to have the flexibility and confidence to be themselves.

Remember: It’s about the kids. If things are tense between the parents, keep the focus of your interactions on the kids. Their well-being will always be the one thing you can agree on.  

Cooperation instead of competition

The holidays are stressful and it’s natural to try and go all out with gifts and other treats to please the kids this time of year. But it’s better to give your children a peaceful, cooperative, and unified experience. Nobody wins when parents try to compensate by overbuying gifts. To the extent that you can, coordinate gift-giving so things feel equal on both sides in terms of price and quantity.

Help yourself first

This should probably be the first thing I list, not the last. But there is so much truth in the phrase “put on your own oxygen mask first.” It might feel hard to schedule, or too self-indulgent. But if you don’t care for yourself, who will? And, it will be harder to be present for others at a time of year when people value your presence. Your children can pick up on your energy, so nurture your mental health to be as present as possible when you’re with them.

Read more about co-parenting during the holidays:
Founder, CEO & Certified Family Law Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Insights, Legal Insights
After over a decade of experience as a Certified Family Law Specialist, Mediator and law firm owner, Erin was fed up with the inefficient and adversarial “divorce corp” industry and set out to transform how consumers navigate divorce - starting with the legal process. By automating the court bureaucracy and integrating expert support along the way, Hello Divorce levels the playing field between spouses so that they can sort things out fairly and avoid missteps. Her access to justice work has been recognized by the legal industry and beyond, with awards and recognition from the likes of Women Founders Network, TechCrunch, Vice, Forbes, American Bar Association and the Pro Bono Leadership award from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Erin lives in California with her husband and two children, and is famously terrible at board games.