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Is this the first holiday season after your marital split? If you’re a parent, you’re probably worried about how you can preserve the joy of the holiday season for your kids despite all of the changes in their lives.

It’s not always easy. The good news is that your ex-spouse is probably equally concerned. That gives you some common ground for negotiations. Here are some steps you should take right away:

  1. Schedule a meeting with your ex. You can’t “wing it” this holiday season and hope everything will go along smoothly. Approach your ex with the idea that you want to work together to make sure that the focus stays on the kids during the holidays, not your disputes with each other.
  2. Aim for flexibility and kindness. It’s time to be super accommodating about the visitation schedule. If the only Friday your ex’s parents can make it into town to see the kids for the holidays happens to be your night with the kids, be gracious and trade for another night.
  3. Promise to give the kids a guilt-free experience. Make a pact with your ex: Neither of you will even hint to the kids that you’re sad you’re not with them on certain days. Agree that you’ll each plaster on a smile and act like you’re happy — even if it kills you inside. Actively encourage them to enjoy their time with their other parent.
  4. Collaborate on gifts. You and your ex shouldn’t be in a competition to win the kids’ favor through presents. Agree to split the cost of big gifts, if you can, and respect each other’s limits. (In other words, if your ex says you can’t buy your child an iPhone, don’t do it.)

What happens if your ex isn’t like-minded? Sometimes, bitterness and anger can drive someone to do foolish things, even where their children are concerned. If the custody and visitation situation is untenable, it might be time to speak with an attorney.