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Happy child during the holidays

Co-Parenting During the Holidays? Don't Make These 7 Big Mistakes

By: Z Family Law

For many families, the holiday season is a time of joy and togetherness, making lasting memories with your loved ones. There's simply nothing more magical than seeing your child reveling in the spirit of the season. 


However, for divorced or separated parents, the holidays can be challenging. Emotions run high, and disagreements are not uncommon. If you're facing this tricky situation, read on to learn about the most common mistakes co-parents make during the holiday season, with practical advice on how to avoid them.


1. Overspending to Compensate

One of the most common mistakes parents make is overspending on gifts and festivities in an attempt to compensate for their absence or for the changes happening in their children's lives. While it's natural to want to make your children happy, overspending can lead to financial strain (especially if you’re recently divorced or separated and newly adjusting to living on one income) and create unrealistic expectations for your kids. Instead, focus on thoughtful gifts and spending quality time together when you can, emphasizing the importance of love and connection over material possessions and gifts that will likely be discarded before long anyway.


2. Fighting Over Gifts

Similarly, disputes over gift-giving can escalate quickly, causing tension and resentment. To avoid this mistake, communicate clearly with your co-parent to make shared plans for gifts. Consider creating a joint gift-giving budget and coordinate on major gifts to ensure fairness. Remember, it's the thought and effort behind the gifts that truly matters, and at the end of the day, your child isn’t keeping score.


3. Focusing Too Much on the Calendar

Holidays are not limited to a specific date on the calendar. Flexibility is key. Rather than fixating on celebrating a holiday on a specific day, focus on the quality of the time spent together. Celebrating a holiday a few days before or after the designated date can be just as meaningful, allowing for a stress-free and enjoyable experience, while extending the excitement of the season for you and your kids.


4. Not Planning for Exchanges In Advance

Last-minute changes and disorganized exchanges can cause chaos and stress for both parents and children. To avoid hectic holidays, plan ahead and establish a clear schedule for exchanges, with specific times and locations for exchanges and detailed guidance on who’s responsible for transporting the kids from one place to another. Ideally, this would start well before the holidays when you draft your custody order, but if your parenting plan isn’t specific about holiday schedules and exchanges, start figuring it out now. Effective communication and thoughtful planning can significantly reduce tension. 


5. Refusing to be Flexible or Make Reasonable Accommodations

Planning is essential, but even the best-laid plans can go awry: from travel delays and winter weather, to cranky kiddos, family demands, and more, there are only so many things you can control. Of course, it can be frustrating when things don’t go the way you expected, especially if it means you don’t get as much time with your children, but being flexible and making reasonable adjustments as necessary will go a long way in reducing stress and preventing unnecessary conflicts. As always, communication is key: stay in touch with your co-parent and let them know if you're experiencing delays, and ask them to notify you if things get off track on their end as well. Doing so will help ensure a harmonious holiday experience for everyone. 


6. Losing Sight of the Meaning of the Holidays

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it's easy to lose sight of the true meaning behind these special occasions, especially if you're arguing with your co-parent or feeling frustrated by their antics. At the end of the day, your children's happiness and well-being is one of the most important things, and you can only control your own actions and emotions. Focus on making the most of whatever time you have with your kids and ensuring they have the happiest holiday season possible. 


7. Overindulging in Alcoholic Beverages

Holiday parties and family gatherings often involve alcohol, but excessive drinking can impair your judgment, hamper decision-making, amp up your emotions, and lead to conflict. It's crucial to drink responsibly and be mindful of your behavior, especially if you have an active custody case that could be compromised by substance use. Avoiding overindulgence can help maintain a respectful atmosphere, allowing for smooth interactions and positive experiences for everyone, and helping you avoid a holiday hangover you're sure to regret. So next time you reach for a refill, consider a mocktail instead. 



Co-parenting during the holidays requires patience, planning, and effective communication, but it's worth the effort. By avoiding these common mistakes and focusing on creating a positive and supportive environment for your children, you can make the holiday season memorable and enjoyable for everyone involved. 


If you're dealing with co-parenting challenges, need help interpreting your custody order, or want to understand your options for modifying an existing custody agreement, contact us at (301) 388-5528, or by email at We're always here to provide compassionate counsel to families in Maryland the District of Columbia. 


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