A vertical header photo of Ashley Anderson.

Co-parenting during the holidays after a breakup can be rough. Dr. Ashley Anderson offers a few helpful tips to make sure the season is stress free and joyful for everyone.

Written by Ashley Anderson | Photo by Kylene White

Holidays can be overwhelming after a divorce or breakup, especially when there are children involved. My first holiday post-divorce was a poignant reminder of what was no longer and although I had zero desire to reignite the old flame, it was awkward to navigate. From broken traditions to scheduling to gifting, things were very different and initially caused lots of stress, anxiety, and resentment. Here are a few things I practice during the holidays to make sure my children can the enjoy the season.

Remember: It’s not about you.

Regardless of your personal feelings about your former partner and the circumstances around which your relationship ended, it’s all about what’s best for the children. With that in mind, the number one thing I remind myself of is to always move with respect. The children are always watching and the last thing they’ll ever see me do is being disrespectful to their father. Now, I know what you’re thinking: how could you possibly care about respecting someone who’s so greatly disrespected you?  My answer is simply that my heart is healed, my intentions are pure, and I would rather live knowing I’ve tried to do the right thing regardless of what someone else has done. I also love Atlas and Ace more than the collective of any negative thoughts or feelings that I’ve ever felt. Remember, it’s not about you.

Figure out a schedule in advance.

That way there are no surprises and you have time to process everything ahead of time and be free of emotion as much as you can in the moment. In a situation where your child/children will be with the other party on a holiday, you’ll need some time to digest that. Last year, spending Christmas Eve apart from my boys broke my heart. I’ve always said that I didn’t have children to split time with them. I meant that, but here we are.

Allow your former partner to be present not just buy presents.

My approach has always been to create opportunities for their father to be consistently present in their lives for the moments that are important to them. That means that he’s invited to every birthday party, school event, sporting event, etc. Holidays are no different. It will always be his choice whether or not he prioritizes them enough to show up, but he’ll never be able to truthfully say that the reason he didn’t develop a relationship with them is because of me. Perhaps, invite the other party over for the holidays (if you can stand it)? Start a new tradition that allows you to create beautiful moments both with them and for them.

Coordinate your gifting plans.

Buying presents can be a huge challenge after breakups. As much as you can, try to coordinate. Create a list and share it with the other party. Even if it pains you to communicate with them, make space for at least a text conversation about who’s getting what and when it will be given to the kids. Surprises are a definite no no!  

Also, the last thing you want is for your children to feel left out if there are holiday events with the other side that you’re not aware of.  I suggest you help the children select a gift for the other parent. It’ll make the children excited to feel like they are truly a participant in the gifting, and again, the focus becomes about them.

Set realistic expectations.

Things are different now and the first year, especially if there’s any bad blood between parents, can be uncomfortable. Try to let go of your attachment to past patterns. As a co-parent, things have to look different and your job is not to do anything but show up as best as you can for them.  Also, take care of yourself leading up to the holidays and surround yourself as much as you can with loved ones who can support you through it.

Instead of looking at the holidays with dread over what no longer is, try finding the beauty in what is. Stay present. Find the beauty in your own Phoenix Season and the opportunity to create a healthy and love-filled space for you and your kiddos. Celebrate the victory of still standing. Celebrate your opportunity to try again. Raise your glass, sis. You’re a warrior, and this season will just add another stripe to your armor. You’ve got this!


Read Ashley Anderson’s Divorce column, “Dating After Divorce“.