Holidays are stressful enough without the complications of divorce. Juggling finances, schedules, events, and life in general around children and an ex seems virtually impossible -- yet we do it every year. For some of us, co-parenting is like throwing gasoline on a bonfire. Thankfully, there are those who have collaborated well with their ex-spouse and come up with some good advice for successfully parenting through the holidays. I asked several former clients just how they handled the holidays and the kids along with the wishes of the other parent. One client jokingly said she recommended wine, chocolate, and maybe half a Xanax, but then she and few others gave me the ideas for the list I finally compiled.
Remembering the kids are #1 - Remember to always put their needs before what might make you, as the ex, feel uncomfortable. If the child wants to call mommy or daddy, let them call. Kids are caught in the crossfire of divorce and putting them first often can help quell tumultuous emotions on your end as well as help your relationship with your children and your ex.
Communicating - So maybe communication was a huge reason why the marriage ended. The beautiful thing is you can continue to grow in how you communicate, but it’s centered around your children. Be respectful of each other’s opinions, but always express disagreements. One former client said she and her ex have rules that they stick to in terms of talking with one another: agree that some topics are not discussed that might cause contention or anger and respect the other parent’s ideas and concerns about the child or children.
Dealing with family - We all know when family gets together there’s the chance that gossip and advice about your ex will flow as freely as the eggnog. Maybe you and your ex-spouse have nipped your own inclinations to criticize each other in front of the kids, but your family and friends might not be so pragmatic or understanding. As a rule, agree to protect one another from relatives and friends who might criticize the other parent in front of the child. It’ll pay off one hundred fold in terms of support of one another and your co-parenting relationship.
Scheduling - Another great piece of advice was to plan way in advance so that everyone can schedule events and outings with the children without running into snags. Successful co-parents can take the basic visitation rights and work them for a more fluid and enjoyable schedule that maximizes the amount of time and attention parents and kids have together through the special times holidays allow. There even apps and programs for sharing family schedules! This can cut down, too, on confusion and the if communication is still a little sore between exes, can alleviate some tension. (This HuffPost Divorce article has some of the top apps http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/09/divorce-apps_n_4915314.html)
Rituals - I’ve written my own blurb in a blog about the power of ritual, but really, invest in something that becomes tradition with your children. This can help with the loss of the family traditions they used to have and help them bond in their new, separate families with parents. Author Terry Gaspard has an excellent article over this topic if you are interested and why and how to start this process. (http://movingpastdivorce.com/2013/11/co-parenting-tips-for-the-holidays-creating-new-memories/)
Finding a role model - This applies to the whole year, but find a couple who co-parent the way you wish and emulate their example. You might have some things to adjust to your family's situation, but at least you have a healthy example to help you begin.
Taking care - Yes, my first point was that the children come first, but if you aren’t taking care of yourself, how can you possible put their needs first and care for them the way they deserve? Be sure you are eating the right things, relaxing for the few minutes you can, budgeting, and exercising. If you need therapy -- get it. By investing in yourself, you invest in them.
Thanks to those of you who shared your wisdom. My clients are amazing people!
Y’all have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!