How to Have a Harmonious Holiday– Even if You Hate Your Ex

It’s that time of year again! Literally seconds after the last trick-or-treater knocks, out comes the Christmas cards, tinsel and 24-hours/7-days-a-week melodious music for your caroling pleasure. Sure, it’s an amazing season full or spirit and all things warm and fuzzy but if you’re separated, possess a newly minted divorce decree or maintain one that has been around long enough to have turned to tin – (and still maintain much of the turmoil which put you down the path to “splitsville”) the holiday season may be anything but joyful. For many, it can be downright atrocious.

But when there are kids involved – and according to The American Sociological Review– 50% of kids will have divorcing parents before the New Year begins – it can be an unfair playing field for children. Why should they suffer the wrath of their parents’ battles? Why shouldn’t they be entitled to the same joyous and cheerful memories their peers get to acquire season after season? Truth is – they should. And no parent – divorced or not – would argue. Trouble is – when there are bitter feelings and trust is broken beyond repair – it’s next to impossible for even the most emotionally-centered adult to possess the ability needed to achieve peace and contentment with an ex they hate, even for the sake of their most prized possession… their kids. However, when parents are at odds – whether it’s only been a year into the life change or a decade since severing – the kids are the victims. No question.

I know that my children – both very young and at impressionable ages – are incredibly blessed. Not only because they have the unconditional love of a mother and father – who would both go to the ends of the earth to ensure their happiness – but because when push comes to shove we’d do the same for each other too. And we’ve only been apart for two and a half years. The ability to achieve peace is a massive accomplishment for any divorced couple but when it’s a newer circumstance, keeping the harmony is frankly remarkable.

I attribute our secret to success to the intricate ability to bite one’s tongue – sometimes until you can feel a trickle of blood. As I delve into this notion and explain in my motivational memoir, Intermission, picking and choosing battles with your ex is imperative so you don’t end up in an ongoing war. Even if your differences are too extreme to dismiss indefinitely, aim for a pause at least until you’re ringing in the New Year – for the sake of your kids. Here are my five must-do power moves to keep your holiday spirit high and your kids’ memories magnificent.

  1. Make sure you’re meeting the needs of your child. It’s extremely difficult for a child not to see both parents over the holidays. So be mindful of altering your schedule – as needed. The holiday plan your child was given when you first split up may not be the same agenda that works for them now.
  2. If you live near your ex, do your best to allow your child to see both of you over the stretch of Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanza. You’re not winning if you have your child for the full duration and they’re unhappy. Kids can feel hollow or empty if they are missing one parent, when everyone around them appears joyous and upbeat.
  3. Do your best to be flexible with you ex during the holidays. If his or her plans change and are not in tune with your agreement, work with your ex. What goes around comes around and they will be appreciative, likely soften and likely will extend the same courtesy to you when you’re the one in need of a switch.
  4. Whenever possible, do your best to show up – together. This goes for school concerts, visits with Santa and classroom holiday parties. If you can be there and be present in unison for appearance-sake and for the well-being of your child, that will resonate in a tremendous way and enable them to have fond memories of important childhood events.
  5. Take the high road. Your ex may not be as willing to work toward this common goal (peace and harmony for the holidays) but in the end walk away. Unless your child is in great jeopardy or their happiness is at risk – winning an argument isn’t worth the pain you’ll see in his or her eyes, after listening to you battle it out. Let your child remember the holidays with love and amity.

The bottom line: When parents fight – the child suffers. It’s important to treat the situation with your ex (especially one that you hate) as a business arrangement. The prize/achievement/score will be the happiness of your child. Just like in business, take the emotions out of it. Look at the dilemma at hand as a business decision – acting only in the best interest of your child. If you can almost remove yourself and act more as an advocate for your child, you’ll get much further and have less stress. So, put the boxing gloves away – if only for the five plus weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Cheers to a peaceful and pleasant holiday season!


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