Separated Parents: Six Ways to Manage Holiday Scheduling

Parent #1: It’s already December. We need to decide about Christmas and you had Johnny last year. Why do you think you should have him again this year?

Parent #2: You know how important Christmas is to me. I’ll take him to my parents and he’ll have all his cousins around. Why should he miss out on the big Christmas celebration my parents always have.

Parent #1: Because I want to spend Christmas with him too. Why should I lose out on time with him because it’s not a BIG celebration. Johnny needs to learn about all different ways of celebrating Christmas.

Dividing up the holidays in divorced or separated families is difficult enough when you sit down and plan it out in advance. When you try to make it work on an ad hoc basis, it can be excruciating for you and even worse for your children who feel fought over and then responsible for the next fight you have with them being the main attraction.

Six Ways to Manage Holiday Scheduling:

1. With the help of a professional or with focused time together, go over all the holidays you care about spending with your children. Determine if there are holidays that are only important to one or the other of you and make decisions about them first.

2. Determine the holiday schedule one time for the number of years you have minor children. Having to make the determination on a yearly basis is a stressor you don’t need. It also helps to establish a pattern that can be counted on and anticipated. One of the most difficult experiences is having to wait until the last minute to know if you will have your children and for the children to know who they will be spending their holidays with.

3. There are many possible ways to share the holidays. Some parents are comfortable with alternating years for particular holidays, i.e. in odd years one parent spends Halloween with the child(ren) and in even years the children spend Halloween with their other parent. If the parents are able to get along well enough, they may choose to spend Halloween together with the child(ren). It has happened with many of the parents I work with and the children are the beneficiaries of a good time with Mom and Dad… if they can effectively avoid conflict. If you don’t think you can do that, don’t subject your children to a good idea gone bad.

You can also split holidays. For example, for some families it works for one parent to have the children for the first part of Thanksgiving and then the children go to the other parent for the 2nd half. Many children think about this as getting double desserts!

Some parents decide they will each get the same holiday each year. For example, the same parent gets July 4th each year and the other parent may get Labor Day… a family tradition for them that the other parent doesn’t share.

4. Understand that neither of you will get 100% of what you want. Your child can only be at one place at a time. Try to become attached to their experience of holidays, how they will remember them when they are adults and what they will love to pass on to their own children, not their fear of them due to the fighting before and after…. because of them.

5. Create new rituals. If one parent has Christmas in odd years and the other in even, create a new ritual before or after December 24th and/or 25th. If you offer fun and meaning to your children, regardless of the actual day, they could learn to be creative, take an expectation and turn it into a new and meaningful experience. I have worked with a parent who created new holidays with the children, ones that they brought their own meaning to. The children felt they had something special that only they celebrated. It is the lesson in how to work with disappointment that is one of the hardest things to teach. Here is a golden opportunity for both of you.

6. There are plenty of opportunities to share holiday time with your children. Enjoy your children when they are there, enjoy them when they are not by thinking about the fun they are having.

© Copyright 2010 by Shendl Tuchman, PsyD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • betty F.

    July 2nd, 2010 at 3:22 AM

    My parents separated when I was just eight and so,holidays could have become an issue. but they really handled it very well and would get back together for over a week in the holidays just for me. I think this was helped by the fact that they separated due to their professional compulsions rather than any problems between them. whatever it is I believe it was the best for me,the kid and I really respect them for it.

  • Sandra

    July 2nd, 2010 at 4:29 AM

    I just got a divorce a few years ago and this has been the giggest hassle, figuring out who gets the kids and when for what holidays. Finally we just let the lawyers figure it out so it is legally binding and felt fair to both of us. Yeah I know we were big babies that we even had to have someone come in and mediate this situation for us but it just seemd more realistic and probably fair to let someone who really had no stake in the matter to divide up the time and come up with a holiday schedule for us. I won’t say that it is always ideal but it works for us for now and we will continue to abide by the agreement.

  • Chelsy |

    December 5th, 2022 at 9:23 AM

    Awesome advice! Figuring out a Christmas custody schedule can be challenging, but if both parents approach the topic with understanding and respect, they can ensure their kids have a wonderful holiday. :)

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