How to cope when your ex has the kids on a holiday

Shared custody, especially around this time of year, can be tough, but it’s a fact of life for a large number of parents and children.

It’s certainly no one’s ideal scenario. I’ve heard legend of families where parents gather together for celebratory dinners and exes are like part of the extended, big, happy family. I personally don’t know anyone fortunate enough to have such a set up.

I do, however, know a lot of parents who are not looking forward to celebrating without their child(ren). In my family, we are celebrating Turkey Day this weekend because my daughter will be with her father on the actual day.

If you find yourself childless on major holidays, there are ways to cope. These ideas have worked for me and my friends in similar situations:


It’s a great way to keep the day in perspective and giving back feels good. Side note: make sure you’re volunteering somewhere that really does plan to put you to work. One year, the place I volunteered at was seriously overstaffed. Standing around with nothing to do while watching other families was not quite what I had been looking for that year. Find a place that can really use your time and talents.


Sometimes airfare is cheaper on the day of the holiday. Take advantage! Getting away may be just what you need. I have a single mom friend whose kiddos are with their dad this year, so she’s heading west to do some skiing over Thanksgiving. It sounds fabulous. I’m not saying that not having your kids is a vacation. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I know she’ll be sad, but doing something she enjoys is the preferable choice to the alternative of being sad and lonely in an empty house.

Find friends

If traveling isn’t in the budget, fill up that empty house or find a full house to join. When I was flying solo on a holiday without my girl, friends kindly invited me to celebrations and I’d have friends over to my house. It’s ok to be the one doing the inviting. You don’t know who else is without their near and dear ones unless you ask. Try it, you may gather together a fun assortment of good people for holiday fun.

Embrace grown-up fun

Enjoy drinks and food you wouldn’t serve when the kids are around. Relish cutting only your own turkey and not anyone else’s (hopefully your great uncle can handle his own this year). If you’re with relatives, enjoy some adult conversation. Go to a movie that YOU want to see. Maybe even one that’s rated R. Without having to pay a sitter! Score! You’d never hit the Black Friday sales with the children in tow, but if you go solo, you may just be able to take advantage of some great deals.

Focus on the next holiday

Goodness knows there are always holiday preparations to be made, be it for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s or beyond. Figure out the next holiday you’ll have your children with you and make plans for how that will be a special day of making memories. Those will sustain you during those holidays you are not together. Do some decorating, make some food in advance and focus on the fabulous family times ahead.

Whether you are celebrating the official holiday together or apart, finding time to express your love and gratitude for your child(ren) and talking together about what you are thankful for can make any day feel like a holiday. 

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