One of many emotionally wrenching decisions divorced parents are forced to make is how to share time with their children during holidays, school vacations, and during other special events.

Here are a few strategies to consider in making a plan for sharing holidays.

  • Don’t create needless problems for your children, yourself, or your ex. Of course, your children should be with their mother on her birthday and their father on Father’s Day. The same goes for lesser holidays that may have special religious or family significance for one parent, such as a tradition of celebrating the 4th of July with one set of grandparents.
  • Make a list of holidays that really matter. You might include Halloween if your children are young. You shouldn’t really be disputing Presidents Day.
  • You have three basic options for making a holiday schedule: alternating, dividing, or sharing.
    • Alternating usually involves swapping from year to year. This year, one parent gets Thanksgiving, the other gets Hanukah. Next year, you switch.
    • Dividing involves giving holidays that matter more to one parent to that parent. The Jewish parent gets Hanukah, the Christian parent gets Christmas. Or one parent gets Thanksgiving break every year, while the other always gets spring break.
    • Sharing involves dividing a holiday, for example, one parent gets the first half of Christmas vacation through Christmas morning, while the other gets Christmas morning through New Year’s Day.
  • You can put together a plan that involves pieces of all three approaches, for example, dividing Thanksgiving and Easter so that one parent always gets the same holiday every year, sharing Christmas break with a swap on Christmas day, and alternating who gets the first half of Christmas every year.
  • Consider really sharing some holidays. A surprising number of divorced parents spend parts of major holidays together, particularly soon after a separation. And I like to think that all parents can find a way to share some time on children’s birthdays, for example, joint attendance at a birthday party, a dinner out as a family, or perhaps just allowing each other some “alone” time with your child on that special day. Consider sharing a birthday to be practice for the future — when you’re both present for school activities, sporting events, graduations, weddings, the birth of your grandchildren…

Written by Dr. Robert Emery. Robert Emery, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia