Successful co-parenting requires empathy, patience, and open communication, which takes hard work by both parents throughout the year. But it can be especially difficult during the holiday season when juggling the challenges posed by children living between two households.
Plan the Holidays in Advance
To help ease the stress for everyone, start by meeting with your co-parent to discuss each of your visions for the period from mid-November through early January. Brainstorm plans that keep the best interest of the children at the forefront. Among issues to consider:
• Where will the children spend each of the holidays? How much time will they spend there? Consider ways to allow your children to spend time with both parents and their extended families, whether planning Thanksgiving lunch at one house and Thanksgiving dinner at another, or alternating holidays, spending Christmas Eve with one parent and Christmas Day with the other.
• How will gifts be handled? It is best to coordinate your gift-buying plans to ensure your children receive a normal amount of presents, to prevent duplication, to spend within your means, and to make sure neither parent is trying to “woo” the children with gifts.
When you are discussing these issues with your child’s other parent, listen twice as much as you speak. Allowing your former spouse to feel that he or she is being “heard” can subconsciously enable him or her to accept your point of view and help you come to a mutual understanding.
• Focus on what is in the best interest of your children. Despite how you may feel about your co-parent, your children love you both and need to establish their own relationships with each of you.
To keep a healthy perspective, remember that the holidays are a season. There are many different opportunities for enjoying time with your children throughout the year.
Be Willing to Make and Accept Concessions with the “Regular” Schedule
The holidays require give and take. Offer to make some concessions in order to get what you want. For example, if you’d like to take the children on Saturday night, and that was time when the other parent was scheduled to have them, suggest that you’ll give up some of your scheduled time on another day.
At the same time, ask yourself how often you’ve changed the schedule recently and for whom. If your request to change the schedule comes on top of five other recent requests initiated by you, it may end up being a bit more difficut.
Don’t Leave Decisions to Your Children
Don’t ask your children to decide which parent they should spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with, nor whether the regular parenting time schedule should be adjusted during the holidays. Leaving those decisions to your children puts too much adult responsibility on their shoulders. The adults are the parents. Demonstrate this by reaching a compromise about the holiday schedule without using your children to accomplish your goals.
How to Make the Holiday Season More Enjoyable for your Children
• Allow your children to share with you the joy of what it’s like being in their other home. Affirm their joy with your own healthy response. Your children’s hearts will be whole when your response is accepting and affirming.
• Create a photo collage of your child with their other parent and give it to them as a gift this year. Encourage your child to hang it in their room at your house.
• Purchase a large corkboard and encourage your child to put special tokens and mementos of their entire family on the board (grandparents, step parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, etc.) as a way to celebrate their other family.
Remember that the holidays are family time, and your children should be allowed to enjoy this time with their entire family — even if the family doesn’t live together anymore.