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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Co-Parenting Through the Holidays

For me, the most difficult part divorced life is watching my children bounce back and forth between two homes.  I know they feel torn.  I know they lack consistency.  I know they get mixed messages are sometimes confused.  And yet I know they need a relationship with both parents and this is the way it works in America...shared custody.

This is the reason for Christmas, why Christ came, because this world is so imperfect.

The holiday season is especially challenging because there are extended family members who want to be involved, extra activities in which to participate and traditions we want to maintain.  The first holiday season was the most challenging, but it's still tough for me.  But I want it to be a delightful season for my children and I don't want them to take on my angst.

First of all, work out the calendar with your co-parent.  Do this before the season begins to be sure you are on the same page.  It's painful to decide who is taking the children to a local show or theme park, but be reasonable and don't expect your children to do each activity twice, just because mom and dad are no longer together.  Avoid demanding more of them simply because they have two homes.  Recognize that they might not be into decorating the whole tree because they just put the tree up at dad's house.  They might get bored with icing gingerbread houses is they did it last weekend, too.  Be mature, use foresight and work with your children's dad to provide the most well-rounded holiday experience.  It doesn't benefit to compete or try to duplicate every activity.  That will only lead to exhaustion (for you and the children) and resentment.

Here are some other things to do now to prepare for a memorable and magical season.
  1. Communicate well and establish the calendar.  With the expanding circles of friends and family, it's easy to feel sucked into everyone's holiday dinner, office party or Sunday School social.  Be realistic and prioritize what will work best for you family, then communicate with everyone.  You can help others by letting them know early when you are available and when you simply are not.
  2. Set appropriate expectations for your children.  They will do so much better if they can predict the coming days.  "This year, you will wake up and do stockings at Daddy's house,"  or "We won't be going to Nana's after Christmas this year, we are waiting for spring break."  
  3. Decide what is most important.  Do you want to visit Santa or the local live nativity?  You may not have time to do both, so determine which events are important to you.  Talk to your children to find out what is important for them.
  4. Allow for down time.  I have found the times with zero demands are the ones I enjoy the very most. 
  5. Smile and share.  Whether is was a great day or a sad and lonely one, tell someone else how you feel.  It's easy to isolate when things aren't turning out like you imagined in your mind so take the time to reach out before you sink into a lonely spiral.  Don't be home alone this Christmas.
Families are complicated. The Christmas Season can make us crazy, or disappointed, or competitive. There is a lot of information on how to make the best, even when this season isn't ideal and I've included some links below.  Share in the comments how you are planning now to enjoy the season!