A Single Parent’s Guide to Holiday Logistics

3 min read

Nothing reminds you of how chaotic being a single parent can be quite like the holidays. Between my ex-wife and I, there are two-to-four households waiting to see the kids each year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Trying to coordinate around them all is near-impossible, especially when it comes to days off work and family members in town. There’s a lot to juggle.

A couple of years ago—when I was ready to bang my head repeatedly against the wall—my ex and I decided to come up with a plan. Why try to coordinate the holidays every single year? Why not make one good plan and stick to it year after year? We decided to meet for coffee in October and get on the same page about the holiday schedule through the end of the year.

After two hours, several phone calls to parents and more than a few scribbles in our planners, we had it. The holiday plan. THE plan. I’d take the kids to my parents on Thanksgiving Day and spend time with them the following Friday, dropping them off by my ex Friday night. She’d take them to her immediate family Thanksgiving Saturday and the larger, full-family feast on Sunday. Christmas is the reverse—she spends the actual holiday with them, while I get Christmas Eve or the weekend, depending on the year. It’s a plan that fits our schedules and our extended family schedules. Most importantly, it’s a plan we’re both amicable toward because we made it together.

Our holiday plan isn’t perfect, but it works. Part of the reason is because we developed a list of criteria going into it. Our final arrangement needed to meet all these stipulations:

  • The kids needed to see each set of grandparents for each holiday
  • We’d get to spend roughly the same amount of time with them
  • The schedule wouldn’t overstimulate the kids or rush them
  • There needs to be room for flexibility

Sticking to these tenants, we were able to formulate a plan that worked for us and our families, as well as the kids. Sure, there are things like weather and family schedules we can’t predict, but that’s okay. We can’t plan for these things. What we can plan for is consistency, for both our sakes and for the kids. There’s an expectation for how things will go and that’s what’s important.

My ex and I are lucky. We live in the same state, in roughly the same area, and don’t have to travel out of state for family gatherings. Other divorcees aren’t so lucky and the logistics of the holidays are likely a point of contention for them. In these situations, I recommend creating a plan that’s built on compromise. Whether that’s splitting the holidays, trying to change the venue or finding a better way to travel, it’s important to look at the options.

Holiday Planning Checklist

To make planning the holidays easier for single parents, here’s a quick checklist, built on the model my ex and I used to coordinate our plan:

  • Figure out how many households you’re obligated to attend
  • Make note of any dates that are firm or any variables you can’t change
  • Check to see what days the holidays fall on and what your work schedule is
  • Write down any travel accommodations required
  • Determine how custody fits into the holiday schedule

With these variables, you’ll have everything you need to start planning for the holidays as a single parent. If possible, sit down with your ex face-to-face and have an open discussion. Try to find concessions that work for both of you and always keep the happiness of the kids top-of-mind.


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