Holiday Co-parenting – Tips for Survival

Thankfully, It’s been a while since I’ve had to deal with the holiday co-parenting nightmare. That doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten about it though! (I’m still kind of cranky about it after all this time if we’re being honest.) Even the most amicable situations can create stress when trying to make sure everyone’s needs are met. Adding in the stressors of cramped holiday schedules, visiting (and often opinionated) relatives, and gift-giving makes it even more difficult. The good news is that you will survive…even if you think that holiday co-parenting will kill you. Here are a few survival tips to make it through!

Problem: Gifts Gone Wild

Many parents feel badly that they aren’t spending as much holiday time with their child. There are lots of reasons:  it may be court-ordered, a matter of location, or simply guilt because the relationship didn’t work out. It might feel like your ex is trying to win favor by buying the puppy, the expensive video game system, or the new car. Instead, a feeling of guilt is often the biggest factor in this holiday co-parenting headache.

If You Can Work Together:

If you are amicable with your ex, discuss the large ticket items on their Santa list. This works especially well for kids that still believe in Santa. Divide the list evenly, with a note to the kids.  “I wanted Daddy and Mommy to both see your smiles.  I’ve left other presents for you at your other house too!”

“We signed a card together saying it was from both of us – I think this helps the kid know each parent loves him/her equally and there is no competition in gift giving” – Sarah, Mother of Denny (20)

If they’ve outgrown Santa, working together and splitting the cost of big items with a card saying that it is from both of you is a great solution.  It tells the child, “We aren’t together anymore, but we love you equally and are willing to work together to make you happy.”

If you Can’t Work Together:

Remind your child that both parents love them. Stay within your budget, and try to not get sucked into feeling that more gifts = more love. Continue to stress that the most important part of the season isn’t the presents under the tree, but the people around it.

“The competition? I refused to play that game. I did what I could and was intentional in getting specific things I knew my boys would like, and let she-who-must-not-be-named over-do things. She was the one stuck with a bunch of stuff the kids didn’t really want or need.” -Krista, mom of Andrew (14) and Christian (11)

Problem: Sticky Scheduling

“The ex insisted that she HAD to have them on the actual holiday” – Robert, father of Jennifer (8)

First and foremost, if the court is involved, both parties must follow what has been agreed upon. If you split the holiday, leave extra travel time when arranging drop-offs and pick-ups. Often, some flexibility on your part goes a long way to helping smooth the road for everyone. If your former partner finds other holidays important, consider “trading” those days for custody on the ones that truly matter to you.

“We started new traditions and had Thanksgiving dinner on a Saturday instead of a Thursday.” – Frank, father of Billy (11) and Stephanie (10)

Creating new customs, like opening gifts on Christmas Eve or binging on pizza while watching holiday movies the day before (Thank you Netflix!) can make holidays even more special for kids. Make time on the holidays to Skype or Facetime children who are with their other parent. That way they can share their excitement with you.

Problem: Resentful Relatives

While you and your ex may have worked things out, Great Auntie Beatrice hasn’t necessarily forgiven and forgotten. Keep your ears open at family gatherings and quickly squash all badmouthing of the ex.

“I reminded my family that my ex’s family was still important to my son – and speaking poorly of them made (my son) feel defensive and anxious. They thought they were being supportive of me, but forgot that Micah was the most important person in the situation, not me!” -Catherine, mom of Micah, age 8.

Since you can’t control Aunt Bea’s mouth, tell your kids that you love them no matter what. As does their other family. Keep an open dialogue about the situation and give your child tools to handle rude relatives, like a quick response. (“I love EVERYONE in my family,” is a great example.) Remind them that they can always excuse themselves from any conversation they find upsetting.


The most important thing about holiday co-parenting is creating loving memories that fit YOUR family. In 20 years,  will your kids remember that Santa came to their house on a Thursday instead of a Friday? Probably not. They will, however, remember baking cookies, laughing, and spending time with you. 

holiday co-parenting survival tips


  1. Ellie Di

    December 14, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Festivities and holidays aren’t easy for slip couples…as you said in your post, the most important thing is that the kids know you both love them, no matter what…’Evil’ relatives can’t be controlled, if they’re smart, they’d stay quiet, at least on behalf of the children

  2. Zaleina

    December 15, 2017 at 8:54 am

    I think it’s really sweet of they can go in on one gift together- such a powerful message to the child! 💕

  3. Shannon Pickin

    December 19, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Great tips 🙂 I had to co-parent years ago, it’s definitely much easier not having to do that.

  4. Cheryl Burns

    December 21, 2017 at 12:42 am

    this is great insight to how it really is

  5. Jessica Whitehouse

    December 28, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    I hope you and your family had a good Christmas holiday and good luck for the new year.

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