By Executive Director Cindy Grossman, LCSW

As fun as the holidays can be, they can also bring a good deal of stress — not to mention when COVID-19 is spreading and stay-at-home orders are in place.

With COVID-19 concerns, co-parents worry about what will happen at the other parent’s home. Are our children going to family gatherings? Did they get together with large groups? You want your children to be safe while enjoying the holidays.

So, what can we do to have a safe and enjoyable holiday that is as stress-free as possible?

Here are our top tips for co-parenting through a COVID-19 holiday. And don’t miss the Facebook Live conversation on this topic featuring Executive Director Cindy Grossman!

Focus on what you can control.

You can certainly share your concerns about COVID precautions with your co-parent, but ultimately you have zero control over what happens at your co-parent’s house. So, what can you control?

You can prepare your children to protect themselves, and you can make a COVID-prevention plan for your own home. Sit down with your children and create a prevention strategy for whenever anyone returns to the home. For example, maybe clothes should be change or put right into the washing machine, or maybe everyone will take a bath or shower.

Remind your children to wash their hands. Make or purchase face masks that you think your children would like to wear and encourage them to wear them whenever they are outside their homes. Get them some hand sanitizer and attach it to their backpack.

Use a yard stick or measuring tape and stand apart to show your children what six feet of distance looks like. By measuring out six feet together, your children will have a visual idea of what “social distancing” means and how they can keep their distance to stay safer.

Remember, you can do all of this at your own home, but you have no control outside of your home. If you feel it necessary to get COVID tests when your children return to your home, if you are able to get them, this is one thing you would have control to implement.

Discuss and coordinate holiday plans ahead of time.

Whether or not you have court orders for how holiday time with your children should be shared, be sure to plan ahead and coordinate holiday time. Discuss via email so that you can have a record of what was discussed and eliminate any confusion. Planning ahead reduces stress and chaos for both co-parents and children alike. Plus, children can have fun with both parents without worrying! Children crave structure, so create a calendar for holiday plans that will help children know what to expect.

Be flexible and focus on creating new traditions.

Remember that the holidays are not about a specific date. Yes, the calendar shows that Hanukkah begins December 10th and Christmas Day is December 25th, but YOUR holiday is when you are able to be with your children. Focus on creating memories and new traditions to make the holiday time you do have together extra special. Play games, watch movies, drink hot chocolate, have a dance party, or make ornaments! In the end, your children just want to spend time with you. The holiday is the time together, not the date.

Communicate with your children.

Listen to your children and validate their feelings. You are living in two different family units, and it may be more stressful or upsetting during the holidays. Remind your children that it’s okay to have lots of feelings, and that all their feelings are important. When your children are leaving for their other parent’s house, please don’t tell them how much you will miss them or how sad you are they will not be with you on the holiday. If you do this, your children may feel guilty about leaving you or feel sad for you. Sending them off worried about you isn’t fair to them!

Instead, encourage your children to have a good time with their other parent, and tell them you will see them when they get back. Although the holidays are a fun time, please don’t tease your children with hints about all the fun things or surprises you have for when they get back. They deserve to have a happy time at their other parent’s house without holding back because they are anticipating the fun things they will do with you when they return.

Your children deserve to have relationships with both of their parents, and we hope you will let this happen for your children. Regardless of how you feel, we encourage you to keep your feelings to yourself and take care of you without sharing your feelings with your children. Remember, the holidays are not a date, they are family time, whenever the family time occurs.

Don’t make the holidays a competition.

Your children’s other parent is not “better” if they can give more gifts than you. Remember that the meaning of the holiday comes from time spent together and special memories made. Your children will treasure the meaningful moments with you more than any present they open.

2020 has been a challenging year for us all. As we try to put the difficulties of this year behind us, we encourage you to do the same with your co-parenting relationship. Whatever you’ve been struggling with and dealing with as co-parents, aim to go into 2021 with positivity and respect in your co-parenting relationship. Your children will thank you for putting them first.

Happy Holidays from Kids' Turn San Diego!