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Surviving the Co-Parenting "Holiday Shuffle"

November 26, 2013
Michelle Crosby

It's official. The holiday season is upon us. And with it, one our nation's most popular traditions: shuffling kids back and forth between their divorced parents' houses.

While the official kickoff used to be Thanksgiving, these days the holiday shuffle begins about the same time Christmas decorations show up in the stores -- Halloween. Now, as we barrel into the busiest part of the shuffle -- Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years and others -- it may be time to reinvent the way we approach co-parenting at the holidays. If approached with the right attitude, the challenges of the holiday shuffle can be transformed into opportunities to create lasting memories that both you and your kids will treasure for a lifetime.

Here are some ideas on how to survive the holiday shuffle:

Think "holiday," not "holi-date": A holiday can be celebrated on any day, at any time. The week before. A couple of days after. Your kids won't mind. By focusing on the meaning behind the holiday, not just the mark on the calendar, you'll impart important lessons that speak to the real reasons we celebrate.

Create new touchstones: Your family has changed. Your traditions can change, too. Perhaps it's a fresh approach to gift-giving or a new venue. Or maybe adopting a tradition from another culture or era. The aim is to help your kids bookmark memories of your time together.

Transition less traditionally:Who says that Christmas Eve has to begin in the evening? Or that New Year's celebrations have to start before midnight? By transitioning the kids between houses at unique times (late Thanksgiving evening to take advantage of Black Friday fun), you may be able to squeeze a few more "use-able" hours of memory-making.

Celebrate together: Sure, this is pretty standard advice. But it's standard for a reason. Celebrating holidays with your ex can send a powerful message, especially if your divorce is fresh. It shows your kids that they are the center of the holiday magic for both you and your former spouse.

I've seen all of these strategies work wonders for kids. But what about you? It's crucial, especially if this your first year of the holiday shuffle, to plan ahead:

Prepare emotionally: Baking pies just isn't enough; many parents are not prepared for their first holiday without their kids. It can be difficult. Lonely. Depressing. All completely normal reactions. This "away time" is likely part of this life change. Get the support you need to work through the emotions associated with such a big transition.

Schedule your "away time": Know where you are going and who you are going to spend that time with. You may think you'll be fine home alone now, but in the moment, it can be much more difficult. Quality time spent with friends and family can really help.

Give yourself the gift of forgiveness: Chances are the holidays won't go perfectly smooth. They don't for anybody, no matter how hard we all try. You may lose your cool, burn some cookies or forget an important gift. Resolve now to forgive yourself before any of it happens. You're not perfect. None of us are. But you are facing this life challenge the best you can. You are looking for new ideas to make your family's metamorphosis as positive as possible. Cut yourself some slack.

It may not be practical to eliminate the holiday shuffle altogether. That doesn't mean we can't do our best to improve it. With a little luck and a lot of effort, this shuffle can become a graceful dance that works better for everyone involved.