12 Ways Not To Be A Grinch: Joint Child Custody At The Holidays 

How can you, as a separated or divorced parent sharing joint child custody, make the holidays easier for your kids?

Below I have put together this list of suggestions that will ask you first to change your mindset (not always easy, but do-able!), and then I’ll suggest some specific things you may wish to do this year.

Your Mindset

1. First, ask yourself if it is possible to let it go?

 Can I just not have “that” fight at this time of the year? Even if you’re not having conflict in front of the child, they can feel the tension.

 2. Allow your child to continue to love the other parent without guilt or disapproval (subtle or overt) by you or other relatives.

 In the same way your child can feel the tension when you’re openly fighting, they can also sense your disapproval of the other parent and their extended family members.

 3. Remember the profound cost of conflict on your kids.

No matter what, if there is conflict, your child thinks that the conflict is fault. Your child believes that if they were somehow more loveable, you and their other parent would not have to fight about them. It’s been proven that children who come from high-conflict families don’t fare as well as those who don’t.

4. Your child should be able to love as many people as they choose without being made to feel guilty or disloyal.

Loving and being loved by many people is good for children; there is not a limit on the number of people a child can love.

5. Your child should have the opportunity to be exposed to both parents’ religious ideas (without shame), hobbies, interests and tastes in food.

Allow your child to have that other parents’ perspective so that they can learn there are different ways of looking at the world.

Too busy to read? Watch the video instead!

Things you can do differently (Keeping the Grinchy experience away from your kids at Christmas)

6. You should not interrogate your child upon return from the other parent’s home or asked to spy in the other parent’s home.

While you want to ensure that your child is safe at all times, they shouldn’t have to endure an interrogation into what you assume the other parent might have been doing wrong.

7. Your child should be allowed to see extended family, grandparents, cousins etc. – No “This is MY(!) day” = bogus!

Parents have to learn to share their child, work it out so that the holidays are about the children. So that they don’t have to drive across town and miss out on the big family dinner with grandma & grandpa, cousins, aunts & uncles, etc.

8. Make sure your kids are not traveling on Christmas Day for the convenience of adults. Kids should never have to spend their Christmas day traveling any significant distance whatsoever, to satisfy one or both of their parents in order for that parent to have what they want for Christmas.

Don’t make your child miss out on any aspect of the Christmas with the other parents’ family just to satisfy your needs. Make the holiday about your child, and not about you.            

9. Don’ get weird about presents. – support your kids in taking stuff back to the other parent – who cares who bought it for them!

You have to allow your child to look after their own things, to have pride of ownership in their own things. Once you give it to your child, it is no longer yours. If the gift came from the other parent, make sure you support them in looking after their things, support their sense of autonomy and responsibility.   

 10. Think about scheduling your Christmas celebration other than on December 25th. Can you schedule your Christmas on a different day? Remember kids don’t care about Christmas Day etc., what they care about is spending time with Family and yes Christmas presents

As the parents, we have to be the grownups. Let them have the whole day with the other parents’ family, and another with you. This can mean doing “Christmas Day” on the 22nd and again on the 25th. Find a day that works for your schedule and make it happen! We do the Hemminger Christmas Gathering in November because it works for everyone. Just do what works.

 11. As parents, can you celebrate something together with the kids present? Is it possible that you can celebrate important holidays and events with the other parent at least there part of the time?

My sister invites her step daughters from a previous relationship to the Hemminger Christmas Gathering every year. A couple of years ago I learned that one of my sisters step-daughters - who is a grown-up - had separated from her partner many years before, but I never knew that because her ex always came to the gatherings. So their kids all grew up having their family Hemminger Christmas with their Dad taking part too.

12. Don’t wait until December to arrange your Christmas schedule. This should be done in July! So, if someone has to make a court application, that it is done well in advance of Christmas.

There are a bunch of reasons to do this. First, the judge and your lawyer won’t resent  you for filing a last-minute application. Second, it will cost you less money to not be filing an emergency application at the last minute. And third, there will be more time to hear your application; the courts get backed up around the holidays because there are lots  of conflicts to resolve.  

I have drafted the above-noted list using information from the following resources:

~By Lois V. Nightingale, Ph.D.~

Children have the right to:

  1. Continue to love both parents without guilt or disapproval (subtle or overt) by either parent or other relatives.
  2. Be repeatedly reassured that the divorce is not their fault.
  3. Be reassured they are safe and their needs will be provided for.
  4. Have a special place for their own belongings at both parents’ residences.
  5. Visit both parents regardless of what the adults in the situation feel, and regardless of convenience, or money situations.
  6. Express anger and sadness in their own way, according to age and personality (not have to give justification for their feelings or have to cope with trying to be talked out of their feelings by adults).
  7. Not be messengers between parents; not to carry notes, legal papers, money or requests between parents.
  8. Not make adult decisions, including where they will live, where and when they will be picked up or dropped off, or who is to blame.
  9. Love as many people as they choose without being made to feel guilty or disloyal. (Loving and being loved by many people is good for children; there is not a limit on the number of people a child can love.)
  10. Continue to be kids, i.e. not take on adult duties and responsibilities or become a parent’s special confidant, companion or comforter (i.e. not to hear repeatedly about financial problems or relationship difficulties).
  11. Stay in contact with relatives, including grandparents and special family friends.
  12. Choose to spend at least one week a year living apart from their custodial parent.
  13. Not be on an airplane, train or bus on major holidays for the convenience of adults.
  14. Have teachers and school informed about the new status of their family.
  15. Have time with each parent doing activities that create a sense of closeness and special memories.
  16. Have a daily and weekly routine that is predictable and can be verified by looking at a schedule on a calendar in a system understandable to the child. (For instance: a green line represents the scheduled time with dad, and a purple line represents the scheduled time with mom, etc.)
  17. Participate in sports, special classes or clubs that support their unique interests, and have adults that will get them to these events, on time without guilt or shame.
  18. Contact the absent parent and have phone conversations without eavesdropping or tape-recording.
  19. Ask questions and have them answered respectfully with age-appropriate answers that do not include blaming or belittlements of anyone.
  20. Be exposed to both parents’ religious ideas (without shame), hobbies, interests and tastes in food.
  21. Have consistent and predictable boundaries in each home. (Although the rules in each house may differ significantly, each parent’s set of rules needs to be predictable within their household.)
  22. Be protected from hearing adult arguments and disputes.
  23. Have parents communicate (even if only in writing) about their medical treatment, psychological treatment, educational issues, accidents and illnesses.
  24. Not be interrogated upon return from the other parent’s home or asked to spy in the other parent’s home.
  25. Own pictures of both parents.
  26. Choose to talk with a special adult about their concerns and issues (counselor, therapist or special friend).


Dr. Lois Nightingale, Ph.D. is one of the very few psychotherapists licensed both as a Clinical Psychologist and as a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor. She has written the Bill of Rights of Children in order to assist families in understanding how conflict between parents can affect children after the separation. The Bill of Rights of Children, in our view, assists parents in returning the focus of parenting back to the children and in seeing potential conflict from the child’s perspective. 

She is the author of the book, My Parents Still Love Me Even Though They’re Getting Divorced, a story/workbook for children and parents facing divorce. Her private practice is located in Yorba Linda California.

  Re-printed here with permission

Written by Val Hemminger, lawyer at Hemminger Law Group Westshore