Ex Etiquette: When You're Sharing the Kids for the Holidays

Here come the holidays, and for divorced parents, it's a time to face a challenge that many believe is more difficult than getting reindeer to fly: coordinating visitation schedules, gift giving and holiday traditions. While these tasks are stressful for anyone, they become an even greater juggling act when they involve heightened emotions and remembrances of "the way it used to be."

Most of us grew up with one concept of divorce '- mom got custody, dad got visitation and the two rarely spoke. Today, joint custody is the most common arrangement awarded to divorced or separated parents. This gives both parties a say and forces them to interact far more than they did years ago.

So it's time to match your mind-set with your lifestyle. If you have joint custody, you've got to have cooperation '- and that may be a very new concept for parents who've just spent years arguing about whether they should stay together or part ways. After working with many divorced parents, I've discovered a few tips that should make the holiday back-and-forth easier on everyone in your family.

  • Put your child's feelings and needs first.
  • Lots of parents pay lip service to this concept without following through. The truth is, it's difficult to put someone else's needs before yours when you're angry or frustrated '- and divorced parents are often very angry and frustrated.

    Put the kids first by talking to them about the exciting holiday they're going to have at Dad's house. Don't whine about how much you're going to miss them. That puts pressure on them and makes them feel guilty if they end up having a good time when they're away from you. Support their enthusiasm for the holidays. Send them off with a smile and an "I can't wait to hear all about it! See you soon!" Even though you'd like your children to miss you as much as you'll miss them, promoting that feeling puts the kids right in the middle of Mom and Dad. You don't want them to grow up associating the holiday season with allegiance or anxiety about betraying you or your ex. It's a time for peace on earth, goodwill toward all '- including your child's other parent. Set the example.
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