Cooperative Co-Parenting during the Holidays-Insuring Your Children Experience the Joy of the Season!
Every family celebrates the holidays differently, enjoying unique family traditions that establish some of the strongest and most cherished memories our children have. This is why the holidays can be a tough time for parents and children following separation and divorce. The idea of creating new holiday traditions can seem overwhelming, with each parent wanting to hold tightly to long-held family traditions that must be altered in order to share the holidays with the other parent.
As parents who are committed to cooperative co-parenting, you know that the holidays can be either a time of great joy or great sadness for your children. This year, commit to the idea that the holidays are for your children. Help them to adjust and accept that, although the holidays may look different from before the separation, they are still a time of joy and celebration, a time to create new holiday traditions and wonderful holiday memories. The following are some suggestions from the Children’s Law Center LLLC on how to successfully and cooperatively co-parent this holiday season:
1. Be Positive: Your children are going to take their lead from you. Remember when they were little and fell down? They would slowly get up, not sure how to feel. You were the first person they looked to as they were wiping the dirt off their knees. If you laughed, they’d laugh. If you said, “oh, no” and looked worried, they’d cry.
Your child’s attitudes about the holidays work the same way. Be positive! Some children worry about the parent who will be “alone” during the holidays. Tell them how happy you are that they’ll be having fun with their Mom or their Dad. Insure them that, although you will miss them, you have made other plans and will be just fine. This lets them know that you support their holiday plans and frees them from feeling guilty for having fun during their holiday celebrations. Help them shop for presents for their other parent and send along a card, signed by you, wishing their other parent Happy Holidays. Avoid long, tearful goodbyes and statements about how much you’ll miss them or how lonely you’ll be. Remember, if you are sad about the holidays and need to talk, confide in another adult, not your children.
2. Create New Traditions/Celebrate Twice! With the right parental attitude, children can feel lucky that they will be having two holiday celebrations. It doesn’t matter that one of the celebrations may have to take place on a different date if the celebration is done with joy and positive feelings and not with resignation or resentment. Insure that your children understand that Holidays are not about a specific time and date on the calendar, but are about celebrating family, friends, beliefs and traditions.
K.C. is a Children’s Law Center LLLC client who knows how important it is to be positive about sharing the holidays with her daughter’s Father. K.C. loves Thanksgiving, but last year, her daughter was scheduled to be with Dad and he had plans to go off island for the long weekend. Initially, K.C. was frustrated; Thanksgiving had always been “her” special holiday! She always cooked and organized a huge Thanksgiving dinner while he watched football! K.C. could have been upset and argumentative, focusing on the “loss” of her traditional Thanksgiving dinner. But instead, she re-adjusted her thinking and decided to celebrate Thanksgiving a week early. She cooked a huge dinner and invited lots of friends. She even invited her children’s Father!
One great way to help your children adjust is to focus on creating new holiday traditions. For instance, ask them if they have any ideas about how the family could “give back,” whether it is volunteering at a shelter for the day, donating canned goods, or visiting a sick or aging relative. For the family meal, ask them to help you plan the menu, and have them make a special dish that will be cooked every year.
Holidays create childhood memories. Insure your children’s memories are wonderful ones. If done right, their holiday recollections will not be of fights over pick up and drop off times, but instead, they will remember two amazing Holiday celebrations.
3. Plan Ahead: Make sure that the Holiday schedule is established in your co-parenting plan and that each year the details are worked out far in advance. This will minimize opportunities for last minute conflict or misunderstandings. Let your children know the holiday schedule in advance and ask them if they have any questions. Allow them to express their feelings about the schedule and, as they get older (late teens) give them the opportunity to provide input into the holiday planning.
The basic structure of your holiday plans should be established in your co-parenting plan; however, the greater your ability to cooperate with each other, the more flexible you can become with the Holiday schedule, insuring that everyone’s needs are met. Talk to or email each other far ahead of time regarding the days and times that are most important to each of you. Make sure to find out about family events or parties that you’d each like the children to attend. For instance, R.C.’s employers throw a huge Holiday party every year. Family members are encouraged to attend and the party is a long-standing tradition that R.C. and her children look forward to all year. The children’s father understands the importance of the party and always agrees to allow the children to go with R.C., regardless of who the children are scheduled to be with. R.C. knows that Father has a family party every Christmas Eve and R.C. is equally understanding about the importance of the children attending with Father.
4. Make Reasonable Plans: Holidays such as Christmas, which is celebrated over the course of both Eve and Day, create opportunities for cooperation. Make sure that you keep holiday schedules simple. If parents live near each other, split Christmas by having the children stay with one parent on Christmas Eve and with the other parent most of Christmas Day. Be aware of your children’s needs when determining “transition” times. It is understandable that you’d want the children to come over as early as possible on Christmas morning if you didn’t have the children on Christmas Eve; but remember, they are going to want to have time to wake up, open presents and play with their new toys for a little while before having to get into a car for the drive to your home. Agree that the transition happen at a reasonable time, for instance at 10 or 11 in the morning.
For parents that live a long car or plane ride away, try not to schedule the transition for Christmas Day, let them enjoy the full day with one parent and schedule the travel time for the next day. Instead of remembering Christmas Day as a day of tiresome travel your children will be excited to spend another “Christmas morning” with their other parent.
5. Let your Children Talk about Their Feelings: The Holidays can be an emotional time for your children. If your child is with you during a specific holiday, it is likely that they will miss and maybe even worry about their other parent. Let them know that it is perfectly natural and okay with you for them to feel this way, that you understand and empathize. Suggest that they call their other parent to wish them a happy holiday. If you are the parent receiving such a call, remember to assure your child that you are perfectly fine; that you miss them too, but that you are happy that they are having a wonderful time with their other parent. Assure them that you have alternate holiday plans and that you aren’t sitting home alone and lonely.
6. Work (Co-Parent) Together! The holidays are a great time for divorced and separated parents to show their children the true spirit of the holidays by working together in a cooperative and “child-centered” manner. Some parents coordinate their gift giving. D.L. and K.D both knew that their son wanted a gaming system. Neither parent could afford both the system and the games, so they agreed that D.L. would purchase the system, which would stay at her home, and K.D. would buy the games. Coordinated gift giving is a way to avoid the trap of competing for the award of, “best present giver,” and instead allows you to work together to maximize your resources and your child’s enjoyment. It is another way of showing your children that although you are no longer together you’re still a team.
Also, try coordinating Holiday events. If the other parent has purchased tickets to see The Nutcracker during his or her time, don’t buy tickets to the same show for the week before, instead, show your enthusiasm by taking your child shopping for a special dress to wear to the ballet. Likewise, plan family parties in accordance with the Co-parenting schedule so that your children can participate and enjoy the family time (you can even invite the other parent!). If a family holiday party is scheduled during a time when your children are with the other parent, go ahead and ask about trading a day with the other parent and be willing to trade time for their family events when asked. If the trade doesn’t work out, don’t tell your children all about the friends and family that will be there or the fun they will be missing. Just tell them that there will be another party next year!
7. Don’t be Naughty! Be Nice! Remember, the greatest Holiday gift that can be given to your children is the knowledge that their parents respect and care for each other and want to make the Holidays happy for the whole family!