11/12/2014 04:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Tips for Managing Parenting Time During the Holidays

While the holidays are marketed as the most wonderful time of the year, this feeling is often lost on parents and children who have been through divorce.

The holiday season can become incredibly stressful when trying to coordinate schedules and parenting time -- particularly for the first time after divorce -- and there are many common mistakes that newly divorced couples continue to make.

Transitioning to a co-parenting relationship with your ex is a difficult adjustment, and planning parenting time around the holidays is a frequent source of contention. These tips will help keep your holidays drama-free and minimize the disruption to your children's lives.

Your children are the priority


No matter the age of your kids, their well-being needs to be kept at the forefront of planning around the holidays.

(Photo by Vince Clements via

This means you must ensure your children have the opportunity to spend time with family on both sides, keeping your kids out of any parenting time disputes, avoid saying anything negative about your ex and above all else, enjoy the time you get to spend with your children. It may not be as much as you wish, but you can still make the most of it.

Use your decree as a place to start

The divorce decree typically includes a provision outlining the parenting schedule during major holidays. If there is any confusion over how the parenting time is supposed to work, the decree can be used as a reference for what the court believed to be in the best interests of your children when the divorce was granted.

Begin planning well in advance

It"s never too early to arrange your holiday plans, and the more specific you make the plan, the better. If your decree doesn't specify where to drop off and pick up your kids or at what time, solidifying exactly how the exchanges should work in advance will cut down on potential problems.

Be flexible

Proper co-parenting requires a certain amount of leniency and compromise to be successful. If your spouse has family visiting from out of town during your parenting time, you should be open to trading days so that your children are able to see their extended family. Likewise, you would want your ex to extend the same courtesy if situations were reversed.

However, you need to arrange specific make-up days in advance for any conciliatory gesture that involves giving up your parenting time. Additionally, you should do your best to plan your holidays around your visitation schedule to avoid the hassle of rescheduling parenting time altogether.

Do not feel pressured to 'win'

Parents often feel the need to overcompensate for splitting the family after a divorce and either buy way more presents than they normally would or treat the holidays like a competition. Remember that you are not going to buy your children's love, and one-upmanship will simply cause problems down the road.

It is best to coordinate gifts with your ex to ensure your children receive a normal amount of presents and that you do not end up buying duplicates. Additionally, you need to remain within your means. Money is often incredibly tight as you adjust to your post-divorce financial situation, which can leave little room for extravagant gift-giving.

While the holidays are full of situations that can potentially cause problems when it comes to parenting time for recently divorced families, that doesn't have to be the case.

So long as you and your ex are able to keep your children as the priority and work to plan everything well in advance, it is entirely possible to begin new traditions with your children and avoid the stress of a bitter holiday season.