Photo: Courtney via World in Four Days

I’ve been divorced for over five years and you’d think I have the whole co-parenting thing down pat—but the holidays still throw me for a loop. Between October through January, I have a million and one things going on and I’m usually seconds away from losing my mind. Tack on the added stress of communicating with an ex and constantly questioning whose-weekend-is-it-anyway and it’s just enough stress to push you over the edge.

While this might not be your life, for many of us who are divorced or separated, this is our reality. “Happily ever after” doesn’t always look the way we imagined it would when we first brought our child into the world. This point is driven home at the holidays when schedules and budgets become even tighter than normal. Everyone envisions spending the holidays with their child by their side, and tempers can flare when previous agreements about custody conflict with our desires.

It seems like an impossible task, but we can effectively co-parent through the holidays if we are willing and follow a little bit of the same advice that we give our children: “You have to share.”

Sharing Really Is Caring

We teach this basic life skill to our children before they are old enough to even speak. Sharing is caring. Sharing is nice. It’s a little different when you have to do it while you’re facing the possibility of your baby missing an important family tradition because they are with their other parent. You can do this, I promise.

Part of being an effective co-parent is remembering that you are equals, and everybody deserves a turn with your child, especially during the holidays.

Don’t Be Mean

Your ex might drive you crazy for a variety of reasons. I’m sure they are good reasons, and you have every right to feel whatever series of emotions that come into play while dealing with them. When they are being difficult about who will have your child on which day, you may feel the need to lash out. Resist this urge, my friend. It is the holiday season, and besides that, any frustration you feel does not need to be shown in front of your child.

The greatest gift your child can see this season is to watch her parents talk things through and resolve conflicts peacefully. Grit your teeth and bear it, and don’t be mean (even if they deserve it).

Ask for Help If You’re in Trouble

If you find that tensions are growing every year, it is time for you to take action. If you and your ex cannot get along, try some new options to keep things civil. That means you can communicate through other channels: find a level-headed relative or mutual friend to help the two of you sort through your differences without taking sides.

ADVERTISEMENT

Consider a great family counselor to reach a resolution that will smooth the process of having to talk with each other. There is no shame in asking for help, especially when you’re struggling.

In an ideal world, you would always have your child by your side every day—even holidays. Remember that they have another parent who loves them just as much as you do, and they are feeling the same conflict in having to share that you do. Take a deep breath, count to 10 and prepare to play fair.

Maybe a holiday miracle will happen and you all can get along—even if it is just for the kids.

This post originally appeared on World in Four Days.