Overeating, cheek pinching, office partying, tree trimming, menorah lighting, ugly sweater wearing, card sending, over spending, Oprah’s favorite things trending! Is it any wonder that holidays are referred to as the the most stressful time of the year?

Adults aren’t the only ones that feel the crush and pressure of Seasons Greetings. Think about the disruption of continuity that occurs during the, “most wonderful time of year.” The lack of sleep, the excesses of food and drink, late night parties or programs to attend, the festivities and steady stream of Amazon boxes… then it is easy to see how old and young can be off their “A Game.” Add in the last minute power struggles of coParenters including schedule changes, out of town visitors and displaced children who are shuttled between households and family traditions; the pressure is increased for the kids.

Sign up for our newsletter today and get exclusive coParenting content.

Some of my fondest memories as a child and through my teens was the ability to go to bed in one house, wake up in the same house and stay in my pajamas for as long as I wanted the next day long, after the wrapping was torn asunder and the breakfast devoured.

Regardless, I can say with some regret and introspection that I have signed hundreds of stipulations or pronounced orders as a judge, that robbed other children of that memory as we collectively cater the holidays to the wants and needs of all the grown ups in the room. That is what we lawyers, judges, and coPartners do. It is the system we are dealt, an adversarial system which espouses, “best interests of the child,” but lives in a space that is convenient or agreed upon by the adults.

And though it makes perfect sense on paper or pleadings for toddlers to be jockeyed house to house, or teens to be forced away from family, friends and pajama lounging to spend half the day, half the school break with one parent or the other; when seen through the lens of the kid it is one layer of stress and expectations layered upon another. Can anyone really expect a 10 year old to be as well mannered, well dressed or even engaged or polite at the second holiday dinner of the day? Sometimes “splitting” the holidays is tearing apart the children.

Hamilton Wright Mabie said,” Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in the conspiracy of love.” No matter which holidays you celebrate, no matter what your family traditions or memories, certainly we can conspire to love our children enough to turn the way we do those things from being adult convenient to child centric.

What would that look like? Seems to me that whenever possible we don’t  traipse children house to house, life to life, state to state. If there is mileage to be made, why aren’t the adults doing the holiday hustle? Why not conjoint celebrations where adults mind THEIR manners and just get along for the kids. Why not family dinners with tables of supportive loving parents and others passing gravy and not judgment? If we start to think about the view from a child’s perspective, then all of us that work in the business of deciding how a life of a child is  ordered may stand up and do what is right by making a few of the adults in the room a little inconvenienced and maybe even a little uncomfortable.

As coParents you have the unique opportunity to be a memory maker for your child. Think about it, reflect and each of us can easily relate to the beginnings of the storyline that goes like this, “When I was a kid we used to …” Whether an intact family or not, the memories like flurrying snowflakes flutter all around you and your child. Your behavior, pliability, level of cooperation or adversely your heel digging, principle standing or acrimony will be the building blocks. The very foundation for your child’s Holiday memories.

Fast forward twenty years from now and consider if your current parenting plan, your current relationship and communication with your coParent foster happy, positive notes of childhood memories or is the conflict a resounding cacophony that will have your adult child say one day, “I hated the holidays growing up.” You can finish that sad thought.

If we believe that the wonder and awe of the holidays are made relevant and even enchanting again as seen through the eyes of a child, then we better make sure what our children are seeing is magical not madness. Conspire to be child centric especially at this time of year. The holidays can be the fondest of childhood memories dependent upon the grown ups in their lives.


About Hon. Sherrill Ellsworth (Ret.)

Judge Sherrill Ellsworth (Ret.) is the Chief Community Officer for coParenter.

Ellsworth is the Past Presiding Judge of Riverside County, a Judicial Educator and former Family Law Judge.

After almost 20 years on the bench, she has earned a reputation for being a straight-forward, no-nonsense, fair judicial officer. A broadly talented jurist and settlement expert, Ellsworth has effectively handled complex civil litigation cases, family law, felony criminal trials, probate and general trials throughout her almost 30 years of lawyering and judging. Ellsworth was one of the court's most respected and admired bench officers, earning the trust and revere of her colleagues and the lawyers who appeared before her.

In 2014, Ellsworth was named the Lawyer of the year by the J.Rueben Clark Law Society Los Angeles Chapter. Also in 2014 for her Judicial leadership she was named as an Inductee to Western State University Hall of Fame. And from 2012 to 2014, Ellsworth served as a voting member of California's Judicial Council.

In 2013, Ellsworth was awarded the Douglas Weathers Judicial Leadership Award by the California Consumer Attorneys, as well as various awards for her judicial leadership both as Presiding Judge and for Family Law. In 1999, she was named the American Business Women’s Association Woman of the Year for Judicial Leadership. Ellsworth was appointed vice-chair of the California Court Case Management System Justice Partner Advisory Committee in 2010. She was a member of the Strategic Evaluation Committee appointed by the Chief Justice and of the council’s Trial Court Budget Working Group, Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee, Family and Juvenile Law Advisory Committee, and Task Force on Self-Represented Litigants.