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Tips on co-parenting college-aged children during the holidays

It’s never easy sending your child off to college. It’s a huge life transition for the child moving into adulthood and for the parents. It isn’t any easier when you are sending away your child alongside your ex-spouse.

While you negotiated custody and financial responsibilities for your child during their younger years, many of those concerns do not exist anymore (unless you are jointly paying the tuition). But the complication of where your child will spend their time is still present, thanks to school breaks and parents who both miss their child and want equal time.

How do you manage these schedules now that your child is an adult, while still respecting your ex’s feelings and your own wishes? Here are some tips to get through planning holidays with an adult child.

1. Involve your child in the process

It can be difficult for parents to realize that their child is now an adult – or at least transitioning into one. That means having the autonomy to make their own choices on how and where to spend their time, and the desire to be respected on an equal level. This is a three-person job, now.

One way to show you understand this is to involve your child in the process when it comes time to plan their breaks. Ask them for an academic schedule and have them highlight which breaks they plan to come home. Discuss with them what they want out of their school year and use it as a framework for building the schedule

2. Be considerate about break lengths

While it may seem fair to have one parent take Thanksgiving and another take Christmas, for example, it doesn’t quite amount to equity. Thanksgiving breaks tend to be a four- or five-day weekend, whereas Christmas falls during winter break, which is typically several weeks.

Be mindful of how much time each parent is getting with their adult child. If one parent gets Christmas and the surrounding break, allowing the other parent to take Thanksgiving and spring break may be a fair compromise.

3. Remember extended families

Grandparents want to know what is going on in their adult grandchild’s life, as do aunts, uncles and cousins. Identify what holidays include large family gatherings on each side and plan accordingly so extended family is not forgotten.

4. Be patient with your ex and your child

This is completely new territory for everyone. No one is entirely sure what the best route will be for all parties, and freshman year is likely going to be an experimental year. Your adult child may forget who they last spent their break with, or they may decide not to come home at all in favor of vacations with friends or academic opportunities. Your ex is just as emotional as you are about wanting time with their child when they have been gone a long time. Breathe, and remember that it will all come more naturally eventually.

5. Respect your adult child’s space

They are growing and learning, and they are flexing their newly adult muscles. You and your ex may want them to come home for fall break and spring break. That may be more time away from campus than your child wants. They are an adult and ultimately have the final say where they spend their time. Give them space to figure themselves out, and eventually they will need to come home – laundry piles up fast, after all.

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