One thing we know about divorce and its impact on children is that kids CAN and often do thrive after their parents separate when they are shielded from ongoing long-term conflict between their parents. It doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with your spouse (although if you are – we’re here for that). What it means is that by modeling a healthy relationship with yourself and a breakup that isn’t an all out war, you’re teaching your kids about resilience. They learn the lesson that we can do hard things. And, those hard things lead to happier times. This is a long way of saying – when parents can co-parent by putting their child in the center (not the middle), they ultimately adjust quite well.
In this blog we’ll share how you and your co-parent can make the holidays joyful, or at least a lot less stressful, for your children.
Don’t ask your child about what happens at the other parent’s home
There’s a difference between showing interest in what your child tells you on their own versus interrogating what they did/do at your ex’s home. If your child wants to share, it will come out naturally. You may not like some of the things your ex does or agree with their parenting style. But you can only control what parenting looks like at your home. And the last thing we want is for a child to feel like they have to compartmentalize their life or worse – in order to please you, they feel like they have to tell you that they are unhappy with their other parent. Remember, your kids are one-half you and one-half your ex. If you characterize their other parent as “bad” – they internalize that and it can make them feel like something is wrong with them too.
Try not to fight over one holiday
If your ex really wants Christmas Day this year, it might be better for everyone’s mental health if you say yes. You’ll earn ‘good will’ which goes a long way in building trust with your ex (especially if trust and emotional triggers were at an all-time low during your break-up). Perhaps if they demand one holiday, you can choose another. Remember, the actual date of the holiday is just a date. You can create your own rules. Celebrate anything and everything, regardless of what “day” it is – or what the rest of society happens to be doing.
Keep holiday traditions but feel free to create new ones too
As much as possible, it’s good to retain your traditions and the routines you had to celebrate the holidays. Sure, they might look a little different, be on a different day, and not involve all the same people – but the closer you can keep things “normal” and predictable, the better (unless your child demands a change). Routines and rituals help kids feel stable and secure, safe and loved.
Make sure you both get quality time with your children
Your kids are going to want to see both of their parents during the holidays. Make sure they get that time, and that they know you want them to enjoy the time they spend with your ex. Ensure that children have unfettered access to both parents, however that needs to happen. If your child wants to Facetime with the other parent, let them!
Remember: it’s about the kids. If things are tense between the parents, keep the focus of your interactions on the kids. Their well-being will always be the one thing you can agree on.
Cooperation not competition
The holidays are stressful and it’s natural to try and go all out with gifts and other treats to please the kids this time of year. But it’s better to give your children a peaceful, cooperative, and unified experience. Nobody wins when parents try to compensate by overbuying gifts. To the extent that you can, coordinate gift-giving so things feel equal on both sides in terms of price and quantity.
Prioritize your needs too
This should probably be the first thing I list, not the last. But there is so much truth in the phrase “put on your own oxygen mask first.” It might feel hard to schedule, or too self-indulgent. But if you don’t care for yourself, who will? And, it will be harder to be present for others at a time of year when people value your presence. Your children can pick up on your energy, so nurture your mental health to be as present as possible when you’re with them.