Holidays are usually an emotional time of year - even without being divorced. The decisions stress most people out; whose family or friends to visit or receive, what trips to plan and save for. And now, as a co-parent, it feels like you have turned traditions on their head!
Effective Co-Parenting means putting the children first; supporting their social, emotional, and intellectual well-being.
Holidays are not a competition. You’re not buying your children’s love. You are reassuring them that the new status quo is that their family, will always be their family and the divorce is certainly not their fault. You are reminding them that you still love them. You want them to be able to ask you any question. If you are not ready to explain you can even say that, it’s about keeping trust, communication openness, honesty and being a parent. You are the adult and being your child’s friend isn’t what is needed.
Media and culture constantly bamboozle us with scenes that holidays are a time for family celebrations. Remember you are still a family; you are now a co-parenting family; made up of parents and child(ren). As parents you set the mood for the holidays. Here are top tips to create ever-lasting memories.
Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
Did you ever hear this mantra at work? It’s the same with co-parenting. The only constant in life is change, so get ready to deal with it. Plan and communicate clearly in advance. Also remember to keep your children informed – at an age appropriate level.
Set Up Regular Meetings
Just as at the office, you should, have regular reviews. Schedule a monthly meeting in front of calendars. Then and there, whilst face to face with your co-parent, add in and change all the next months’ known appointments and arrangements. The time spent planning isn’t wasted – it provides everyone peace of mind. Let your co-parenting plan be your guide for holiday scheduling.
Identify where there are conflicts; work assignments, social engagements and be adaptable. Flexibility with each other sets a good precedent. Take turns. Life happens. Things come up. Understand each other. Avoid the pit fall of building a ‘steel wall’ around yourself – because, when you want to change something, the reception may be mirrored. Use the ‘golden rule’ to treat each other as you wish to be treated, with consideration and respect.
If your children are school age and you both work, you’ll need to sign up for camps or caregivers during the holidays. They can be formal arrangements with family members or friends. Check that you agree on the type and cost of care. Take advantage of camp early sign up discounts. It is not bad for children to spend some time away from their parents with caregivers, or camps.
If your children are not yet school age, daily schedules see less change. Holiday travel has an impact instead.
If you haven’t already, have a shared online family calendar; for every single day so everyone knows where everyone is and what they are meant to be doing that day. Give older children access to the calendar. Consider adding grandparents and caregivers too. Decide who owns the calendar and assign edit rights and edit protocol so that the agreed person may adjust the calendar. Follow through with the commitments - no last minute changes (especially out of spite)!
When something changes – everyone knows. Before you make plans or change plans, ask yourself “How will this affect the children?”. Try not to disrupt their routine even on a change over day. For instance, if the children have a Math tutor or Karate class on a Wednesday afternoon, pick them up after the session, even if it means it’s a little later than normal.
Communicate change with the children so that they are not surprised and are reassured that no matter what the kids come first. Parents, keep your personal calendar personal and not part of the family calendar. One parent explained her approach to being flexible about scheduling, “We tried having set days. It didn’t work – we needed flexibility for our work schedules. We also didn’t want to feel forced into something… We both want to do things and we need each other to be happy when we have the kids so that they have a positive experience - We aim to be fair with each other”.
Plan Smooth Transitions
Plan the logistics of going to the other co-parent’s home or trip. From packing, travel arrangements, to funding. Include children in the discussion at an age appropriate level so that there are no surprises. Noone likes the surprise of “Get up, we’re going to the airport to visit Grandma” - no matter what age they are! This can be a talk on whom they are seeing, where they’ll stay, remind them of the fun they had last time, or prepare them gently about pitfalls to avoid. Set the children up to succeed on their adventure.
If we you to show them that you are a family, always be a family. It’s time for a united front. Where only kindness and consideration are displayed. Please, no arguments in front of the kids nor bad mouthing the ex. Children have eagle eyes and ears, and are pretty effective at copying observed behavior or hearing what you told your mother in the other room. Set the standards!
Agree with your ex how you will communicate with the children or each other during their absence. Ask your children, if it’s age appropriate, for input, but don’t leave the decision of how frequently to communicate up to your children. It’s too much responsibility for them. This could be:
- A text to confirm safe arrival at destination
- A call to say good night on the first night away only
- Face time on the weekend to catch up
What would be right for your children? Don’t be over bearing; allow the others their special time to bond. If you are all together for a family celebration, such as Grandpa’s 80th or a cousin’s wedding, you need to effectively and gently communicate with your children that spending time together at a family event doesn’t mean getting back together. Reinforce their experiences away from you. Why not create after trip celebrations and rituals? You could discuss what they did and saw, make photo books, and especially send thank you letters to relatives who hosted them.
Choosing the right words is important. Don’t let the words you use to describe your time with the kids seem like a chore. “I can’t make it as I have the kids then” or “I’m looking forward to my time off”. Keep your conversations children focused. Make sure that when you talk about the transitions and time in residence, they come across as being precious and special. Say “I want the kids”; so that they know they feel wanted and loved.
Children and adults alike will hear what they want to hear… so by keeping your language positive, you are doing everything to reinforce that “Kids come first”.
Forgive. Move on. Leave behind anger and resentment so you can focus what’s the best for the family, the kids and let’s include you too. Absence sometimes does make the heart grow fonder. Time away from your kids will give you time to regroup.
If you have a date and don’t necessarily want the children to know about it in it’s early days, pre agree that the other parent is to pick up the children by a certain time to allow you time to prepare and avoid unnecessary introductions and explanations.
With some communication and cooperation, it's fairly easy to make the holidays a good time for your children through effective co-parenting. Just remember to check your ego at the door and remember to put your kids first and it all runs that much more smooth.