Co-parenting Through the Holidays
The Holiday season is fast approaching. With it comes all those familiar stress factors for divorced and separated families. The Holidays bring home the thought of coming together as a family. It's often thought that a successful holiday season means one big, happy family enjoying the festivities together. In movies, songs, television, and any other aspect of our media and culture, we are continuously reminded that the holidays are a time for the celebration of family.
So when a divorce or separation happens, the holidays may be really tough for children to cope with. As a parent, your challenge is to start new traditions. To give the children something to look forward to when the holidays come. You should focus on changing the season from a time to dwell on the past to the excitement of something new.
Although it can be difficult, the holidays can be just as pleasantly memorable as those of the past. It's all about learning to transition and adjust. This isn't just for you as a parent, but for the children, and even your ex, too.
As the holiday season rolls around the corner this year, it's crucial for us to remind ourselves that no family is perfect. Together, you and your children can deal with the changes and re-create the magic of the holidays in a new way. As long as there's love, and a lot of it, any holiday will be just as celebratory as it should be.
Don't get pulled into resentment and sadness. Think of the children and how you as their parent can and will always do what's best for them. No matter what is going on, you must do the best you can to co-parent successfully through the holidays. And while it won't be an easy feat, it is definitely possible with a few helpful tips on how to make the holidays work:
1 - Don't make your children decide who to spend the holiday with.
Putting the kids in an awkward spot isn't what's best for them. It's not fair to make them choose between the two most important people in their lives. It's difficult for them to have to make the choice between mom and dad. Also their answer may not be what you want to hear, which can make you unhappy. Before consulting the kids about any possible plans for the Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, refer to a co-parenting plan or visitation schedule that may be in place. Remember to give the kids an opportunity to speak with the other parent on the day. This will help them all to deal with the separation better.
2 - Check with the other parent before making any plans.
Hopefully you and your ex will have a co-parenting plan or visitation schedule in place outlining who is with the children for each holiday. If not you will need to discuss any potential plans with each other and come to an agreement. Hopefully the conditions between you two are positive. In that case, you can come up with a schedule to share the time with the kids, whether that is together or separate. Things can get more complicated if there are misunderstandings or miscommunications. It's best to come up with a reasonable schedule for the holidays, and present it to the other parent as conveniently as possible.
3 - Compromise.
If your heart is set on doing a certain something with the kids for the holidays, and your ex doesn't agree with your plans, take a deep breath. Think of a way to compromise. Try to not get too frustrated, and do not get caught up in your emotions. Or what you say or want will no longer be considered reasonable by the other parent. Instead, calmly assess the priorities of the holiday, and what you want to do most with your plans.
Imagine you planned a week-long Christmas vacation in Colorado. With skiing and snowboarding in the mountains, but your ex wants the kids for Christmas Eve. What do you do? You compromise. See if your ex will agree to spend Thanksgiving and the New Year with the kids. In exchange for allowing you to have them for Christmas. If that doesn't work, take the vacation the week immediately before or after Christmas. This allows your ex to get the day they want with the kids. Eventually, the two of you will figure out a plan that can you can all agree on.
4 - Start new traditions, and keep doing the old ones, if possible.
This tip is especially useful for older kids. Children often have fond memories of the holiday traditions that your family may have enjoyed in the past. A divorce or separation doesn't have to mean that all fun holiday traditions should be over. Instead, come up with new ones for the family to enjoy. Depending on the tradition, you'll have to determine what's appropriate and what's not.
Continuing some family traditions can be more painful than they are special. For example if you always read the story of Thanksgiving around the fireplace while enjoying popcorn and hot cocoa, don't try to recreate it. Instead try something new. Spend the evening after Thanksgiving dinner watching holiday movies or playing a fun game with little prizes. This way the kids get to have fun without feeling disloyal to old traditions.
With every situation, be mindful of what's appropriate for the kids. Ask yourself what will likely be a positive experience for everyone. Get creative and come up with a new tradition to follow. It will make the new circumstances that much more special and meaningful.
5 - Allow some time for relaxation.
The holidays are stressful enough as it is, even if delicious food, and memorable fun are involved. With all the events going on, stress levels are high, and everything can get a bit overwhelming. Consider that the children now have to deal with the stress of holidays times two households. You will quickly realize just how much a moment of down time is necessary.
Schedule a moment of peace and quiet for the kids. Even if that means enjoying a holiday movie on the couch or giving them free time to play.
6 - Use your own support system.
As painful as it is to accept, there will be times where you will be alone without your children for a holiday. Instead of getting lost in your own grief and loneliness, use the time away from the kids to rekindle relationships. Reach out to your own support system - such as friends or relatives. Be around them as much as possible, even if you'd rather be alone in your misery. You'll feel better than you might realize if you are distracted by people who love you and want to be there for you.
7 - Take Time for Yourself
Although, support is great, you may find that you would prefer some time alone. Remember all the things that you used to do, but haven't had time for. Now is the time to do those things. Have a spa day and treat yourself to a massage, manicure and pedicure. Pick up your favorite author's new book. Treat yourself to a movie day and watch all of your favorite movies. Choose comedy to keep your spirits high or action to keep you excited. Volunteer your services to help someone else during the holidays. This will not only help the person you're assisting, but it will also make you feel better about your circumstances.
Don't get caught up in a vision of what everyone else tells you a holiday should be. Changes happen and life happens. Your idea of a happy family holiday can always be reinvented and improvised. Dealing with divorce and separation during the holidays is hard on everyone involved. It can be particularly hard on children. But it's nothing that can't be worked through with a positive mindset and a few good co-parenting strategies.