The holidays can be a stressful time for just about anyone, but if you’re a separated or divorced parent, adding that in on top of what you already have going on adds another level of stress. Now you have to navigate separate household schedules, extended family expectations, both parents wanting to spend as much time with your child as possible during this special time, along with all of the emotional stuff you still might be working through.
Holiday co-parenting can be so tough. You are no longer married to your child’s other parent, yet you have to deal with them a lot, especially during the holidays. But the thing is, you and your child deserve a happy, low-stress holiday. So... in this episode, I talk about 5 tips that will help make your holiday co-parenting more healthy and less stressful for both you and your child.
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Hi Moms! Thank you for joining me today.
Today we are talking about those moms who may be separated or divorced and are dealing with having to co-parent during this holiday season. Although many of you don’t have to deal with this issue, I’m sure everyone knows someone who is right smack in the middle of it, so share this episode with them, I think it might help them with what they’re going through.
The holidays can be a stressful time for just about anyone, with all of the special events, last minute shopping, family parties and other obligations, school performances, church dinners, and just so many crazy schedules to juggle. But if you’re a separated or divorced parent, adding that in on top of what you already have going on adds another level of stress.
Now you have to navigate separate household schedules, extended family expectations, both parents wanting to spend as much time with your child as possible during this special time, along with all of the emotional stuff you still might be working through.
Holiday co-parenting can be so tough. You are no longer married to your child’s other parent, yet you have to deal with them a lot, especially during the holidays. You just have to.
Holidays used to be a time for joy and family and excitement and now they might be filled with anxiety and confusion and anger and stress.
And to those of you who are right in the thick of this, I am so sorry you are having to deal with all that comes with the situation you’re in. I understand it and I can empathize and I want to give you hope that it does--or at least it can--get way better.
The thing is, your child deserves happy, low-stress holidays surrounded by people who love them and want the best for them. No matter what else you and your co-parent may disagree on, you’re both probably wanting those same things for your child.
So, to help you keep that big picture in mind, here are 5 tips for healthy holiday co-parenting that can help reduce stress for both you and your children.
1. Put Your Child First
Make it about them, not about whose day it is or whose turn it is, but about what’s best for your child. If they’re old enough, ask them what they would like to do. While their choice isn’t the only factor, it gives you a good baseline of what to decide. If there is a family party with your co-parent but it falls on one of your days, ask your child what they would like to do. If they really want to go, let them go. This is where a little flexibility goes a long way for your child. Make sure you make it about your child and not about whose day it is. Be ready to go with the flow on whatever is best for your child.
But something to think about also, on the other side of this is, if you are looking at squeezing in four different family celebrations in one day to give everyone time with the kids, take a minute and imagine the experience from your child’s point of view. How many transitions does that create? When does your child get the time to relax and connect with family? At some point, you aren’t making memories anymore; you’re just creating chaos and exhaustion. So, keep all of this in mind while calendaring your next couple months with your co-parent.
Which brings me to my next tip:
2. Plan Ahead
I encouraged you both to communicate what the holidays and holiday plans look like and determine how you will spend the time off during the holidays well in advance. Discuss the traditions you value and want to see carried on with your child and be willing to let go of activities that cause more stress than enjoyment.
And it’s good to have things on paper. Whether it’s in the paperwork for your separation and custody agreements, written in a later contract, recorded on a co-parenting calendar of some sort, or simply discussed via text or email, having it on paper allows you to have a paper trail and prevents you or your co-parent forgetting what was discussed.
In my own situation, to make the planning of activities easier and communication better, I created a google calendar and shared it (with editing rights) with my co-parent, my kids dad. I make a note in my planner to update this calendar at the beginning of every month, with different activities that I or the kids have planned, or any changes we’ve made to the schedule, and especially during the holidays I seem to update this weekly because there’s so much going on and we’re constantly making changes to the schedule. As my kids have gotten older, I also share this calendar with them so they can just pull it up on their phone and see what’s going on.
Now, how much my co-parent and kids pull it up and look at it, I don’t know. But it’s at least there so everyone who doesn't want to get confused during this busy holiday season can know what’s going on.
3. Be Flexible
While good planning is important, you also need to make some degree of flexibility for smooth co-parenting during the holidays. No plan can account for all of the things that might happen. Perhaps your child gets sick and you need to scale back some of the celebrating. Maybe your in-laws come into town unexpectedly. By being flexible and making it about what’s best for the kids, it makes co-parenting a much smoother process in the long run.
And a little side note here, try to not put your child in a situation where you are having them choose which parent they want to do an activity with. If there is any way to reschedule your particular activity because maybe it’s the more flexible one, then just do it without making your child choose, and let them go to the other activity without putting them in a conversation that seems like they are having to choose because this is so hard on kids. So no matter what you do when trying to be flexible, try not to say it in a way that makes your child feel like they’re choosing.
4. Coordinate Gifts
In an ideal world, this would be a great one to do because it is easy for holidays to become completely over the top, now that your child is getting two households that are giving them gifts. If at all possible, try to talk to your co-parent about who’s getting which gifts, and even talk about things that are off-limits. But if you don’t want your child to become too spoiled and entitled, it might even be a good idea to set a money limit or number of gifts limit. A lot of times co parents try to “out-do” each other with lavish gifts, but remember it is going to be much harder to reign in your gift giving once you start this. It’s easier if you just establish a reasonable plan from the beginning. It is just so much harder to undo that entitlement in your child than it is to avoid it in the first place.
5. Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
It’s easy for anyone to get overwhelmed during the holidays. Make sure you keep in mind your own self-care, both physically and emotionally. The more you take care of yourself, the more you will be able to take care of your child. Holidays can get particularly lonely. I’ve always said, there’s just something about the actual holiday day. When it’s just a regular Friday or something, it’s not so lonely, but when it’s a Friday that is a holiday, the loneliness can be stifling. So be sure to have some sort of back up plan, a friend’s house you can go to, someone you can talk to, so the loneliness doesn’t set in too deep for you.
I hope you will take these 5 tips to heart and talk to your co-parent about them or maybe even share this episode with them as the holiday season is fast approaching.
And just remember: It’s important to learn to love your co-parent enough to be able to put your child first.
Thank you so much for listening today and I’ll talk to you next time!