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Managing a holiday schedule with your adult child in college

When your child was a minor, managing a parenting plan over the holidays was a bit simpler. Now that they’re an adult in college, with their own schedules and priorities over the winter break, it’s not as easy. Now there are three adults with opinions about how to spend this precious time. And if you’re newly divorced, it may be completely foreign territory for everyone involved to divide time over the holidays.

If you are worried about whether you will be able to spend quality time with your college-aged child this holiday season, here are six suggestions that may help make the process easier.

1. Talk now and talk often

The only way your child and your ex-spouse will know how you feel is if you express your concerns directly. If you haven’t had a conversation with them both about the plan, now is the time to get started. Open and honest communication is the key, even if it may not be easy with your ex-spouse.

2. Respect your child’s feelings and age

Whether you are recently divorced or have been divorced for years, this is an emotional time for your child just like it is for you. Make sure you respect their feelings and understand that what they want may be different than what you are imagining. Now that they’re an adult, they need to be treated more maturely when it comes to making decisions.

Your child coming home from college may also want to spend time with friends who they don’t see during the school year, and for them that could be just as important as a family gathering if those are deep-rooted friendships. They may want to be back on campus for New Year’s Eve to celebrate with their new, budding friendships.

3. Consider traditions, but don’t be married to them

As you try to determine what to do this holiday season, consider what has been the plan in previous years. If you’ve been divorced for years, what was your parenting schedule when your child was a minor? If this is your first year, what are the traditions your family has held for extended family get-togethers and immediate family celebrations?

While tradition can be a good starting point, it is important to remember that traditions may have to change. As your family evolves and changes, so will your traditions. The end of one could be the start of a new, cherished tradition between you and your child. It doesn’t mean they love you any less – it just means their desires are different in this life stage.

4. Remember the grandparents

When looking to traditions, it is also important to be considerate of grandparents who want to spend valuable time with their grandchild and hear about their college experiences. Does the extended family only get together once during the year, and that time is during the winter holidays? Those may take priority over other celebrations if your child will see those family members at a different point in the year.

5. Start talking about future holidays

To that point, it’s worth discussing how other holiday celebrations and time off from school can help balance quality time. If your child is going to stay with one parent over the holidays, can they spend spring break with the other parent? If our child made it to one extended family’s gathering for Christmas, can they spend Easter or a summer holiday with their other relatives?

6. Keep an open mind

Try to remember that spending time on a specific day in a specific way is not the important thing – what matters most is that you are spending quality time together. Maybe Christmas won’t be celebrated on December 24 or 25. But if you get to take a photo in matching sweaters, watch your child’s joy as they open a gift and share an activity you enjoy with the ones you love the most, it will be what you cherish the most. That is what makes the season so special.

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