Halloween… the official kickoff of the holiday season. This is the time when everyone revels in fall traditions like pumpkin carving, wiener roasts, costumes, and trick or treat. All of this is supposed to create beautiful memories that you will capture in photos and video to be reflected on fondly for decades. In this article I will share with you three tricks to make Halloween a treat for kids and co-parents.

The reality for many parents, especially those pulling double duty of working and juggling home responsibilities, it’s that one more thing that may send you straight to the looney bin. Add to that the complications that being a divorced, single, or step-parent impose and you now have a minefield of anxiety to navigate.  Of course it might be said that all of 2020 has been a minefield of anxiety. Is any of this fair? Nope. Does that change anything? Not at all. Time marches on and magical moments with our little ones are fleeting. So as parents, we must do our best to create the memories we can given the cards we’re dealt. Otherwise, be prepared to face regret later.

Whether it’s 2020 or any other year, here are three tricks to make Halloween a treat for kids and co-parents.

Trick #1 Give your child some but not all control

Ian was happy to be Robin for two years straight when he was very young.  Ironically, mom was also Robin when four years old and again as an adult at 40 years old.  This doesn't help you with your co-parenting efforts but fun fact just the same.
Ian “Robin” at 2 years old

As I start this list of tricks for co-parents at Halloween, let’s start with an easy one. One simple way to give your child some control is to allow them to pick their costume. You may have to offer some guidance or set boundaries with the child or even your ex. If a certain choice imposes safety risks, conflicts with school rules in the case of those worn to school, or doesn’t align with your core values, discuss these concerns with the other parent. There are lots of costume choices. Agree that if either of you really disagrees with a particular choice, you’ll back each other up. Tell the child that they will need to pick something else and explain why.

At the same time, be careful that you’re not taking the costume choice too seriously. Just because your ex wants to allow your little munchkin to dress as a devil on Halloween doesn’t mean they think it is okay to worship Satan. Maybe they simply saved a special devil costume from their childhood and want to pass on to their son.

How to reasonably address conflicts with your ex

On the other hand, it is reasonable to oppose your middle-school daughter dressing as a sexy pirate. While it may seem like an obvious misjudgment to you, the other parent may simply have failed to think of it in the way you have. Share with them why it makes you uncomfortable and offer alternatives such as a non-sexy version of a female pirate costume. Take the initiative to find some choices online that everyone can be happy with. If your child really wants the sexy costume, you simply need to remind them that it is out of bounds for their age.

My ex remarried when our son was still in elementary school. His wife, Brandi, could sew and made our son several costumes over the years. While I wished I had acquired this skill from my mom, I chose not to. So when Brandi came along and wanted to do this for Ian, I was thrilled. I was happy to let him have the joy of wearing a costume made with love just for him.

Trick #2 – Remain Flexible and Open Minded

For two-parent homes, there’s one home and only a couple decisions to manage. What costume are they wearing? What time are they going? And which parent is going with them? Single parents and parents living in two homes have to answer these questions and whole lot more.

The co-parent starts with the question of where will the child trick or treat? Does the plan involve splitting the experience between the homes in the same night and if so, how is that going to work? For that matter, who’s shopping for the costume and who’s paying for it? Is there a budget to consider? Of course you can certainly make the case that the costume questions apply to the single home family as well. But it seems most families who cohabitate naturally work out the division of labor and costs over time.

The single parent home has to decide who will hand out candy while they’re gone or if they will just skip either going or handing out candy. I personally lived this experience for about six years and I don’t necessarily think I chose the best course. I opted to let Ian go with other groups of parents and kids in the neighborhood while I stayed home and handed out candy. Unfortunately, this has left me feeling like I missed out and that I abdicated this responsibility to others. In hindsight, I would have given less weight to handing out candy and more to experiencing Halloween with my son.

For non-married parents, the answer to the above questions may change over time as circumstances in each home evolve. This is why it is so important that you remain flexible and open-minded. I strongly encourage you to discuss these decisions ahead of time with both your child and the other parent. This will minimize surprises and better manage expectations.

Trick #3 – Be considerate to the child, the other parent, and to yourself

For the co-parents, here’s where the real balancing act comes into play. First, while you want to give your child some control, don’t force them to make all the decisions because you don’t want to anger anyone or have a confrontation. You’re the adult. Make decisions that adults should make so that your child can focus on enjoying wearing their costume and trick-or-treating.

Second, just because your family always had a tradition of mom always making or buying the costume, be considerate of what others want to contribute to the equation. Maybe your former mother-in-law really wants to make the costume for her granddaughter. Can you let her have this joy at least in some years?

On the other hand, there’s no need and should be no expectation that you relinquish control to the other parent on a continual basis. There should be some level of compromise and sharing of the experience and responsibility. If your child has never gotten to trick-or-treat with you and you would like to have that experience with them, speak up and make your desire known to the other parent. Raise the issue well in advance and be creative about devising compromises that will allow the other parent to come to terms with a different experience this time around.

Reflecting on our experience as co-parents at Halloween

Ian always picked his costumes and in which neighborhood to start.  Of course, the other parent always wanted to experience the evening. As a result, Ian would have to stop halfway through the first neighborhood to switch houses.  Of course, he didn’t get to go with the other kids in the second neighborhood. They started way earlier and were either done or on an entirely different part of the neighborhood.  I think in some years he picked one or the other neighborhood but still had to make time to share his costume with each parent. 

Good grief! As parents and the “adults”, we should have made all this inconvenience more our affair and let him just enjoy the experience.

As you finalize your plans for this year’s trick-or-treating, do everything you can to remember this is a memory for your child first and you second.  Apply these tricks for co-parents at Halloween. Be flexible and considerate.  And expect to do more than your married friends have to just to create the same level of kid-parent experience. And lastly, be sure you charge your cell phone and have enough memory to save all those photos you want to take!

Want more help?

Did you find these 3 Tricks for Co-parents at Halloween helpful? Would you like help with a broad spectrum of co-parenting concerns? Check out my book, Combative to Collaborative: The Co-parenting Code available now.

For more co-parenting tips, check my blog for articles on a variety of topics.