Co-Parenting After the Break-up

Feeling anxious and angry over the idea of sharing or alternating the kids on holidays? Your children deserve a great holiday, even if you feel cheated out of yours. Don’t burden your child with the responsibility for your happiness. Encourage them to have a blast with their other parent, even if you can’t stand the prospect of being alone.  Here are some tips to give your children happy holidays after your break up:

  1. Plan. Plan. Avoid stress by planning holiday schedules well in advance.  Don’t wait until the last week (or day!) to figure out who gets the kids.  Agree exactly on who/when/where the children will spend the holidays.   Work things out in advance with your own extended family too, whether that means that you say “no,” celebrate the holidays a little differently, or ask for your family’s understanding and help.
  2. Don’t Guilt Them. Don’t burden your children with the responsibility for your happiness. While it’s okay to let children know that they will be missed, it absolutely critical that you let them know you’re happy that they will be having fun and that you want them to have a good time. It may seem odd, but your children look for signals, verbal and non-verbal, that they are allowed to care for the other parent without hurting you.
  3. Be Flexible -You Can Bend Without Breaking. Holidays don’t HAVE to occur on any particular date. With a bit of advance planning, you may decide that you’ll celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday, and the other parent will have them on Thursday.  Think about it from your kids’ point of view. Most kids love holidays.  So, doubling holidays – one with Mom and one with Dad – can be fun.
  4. Visible Cues. Make sure your children understand what to expect. For younger children, put a calendar on the refrigerator or a bulletin board. Mark it up so to show which parent will have the kids with each day. Most kids love stickers and using different ones for each parent and event, is both helpful and a fun activity for them.  For older children and teens, do this on a family Google calendar that can be accessed (but not modified) from the child’s phone.
  5. Share the Plans. Sit your child down and plan holiday activities together.  “This is the day we go see the gingerbread houses at Connor Prairie.”  “This is the day when we ride the train at the State Museum – the same train Mommy and Daddy rode on when we were your age.”  “This is the day we go to Mimi’s house.”  Put these events on the family calendar, so your child can see them.  This will give your child something to look forward to.  It will help your child feel confident that there will be holiday fun with you, especially if they are spending the actual holiday with the other parent.
  6. Shared Time. Some parents exhibit healthy co-parenting with one another. Have you and the other parent been successful putting your own feelings aside and co-parenting? Can you sit together at football games and dance recitals? If so, consider celebrating some holidays together. (Warning:  Do NOT do this if you have a toxic ex:  fights and arguments will spoil the day, and conflict is bad for children. It is okay if shared time isn’t right for your family at this time. The children would rather have peace than see you both at the same time.)
  7. Keeping in Contact. Plan to let your child have some kind of contact with each parent on the holiday itself. Use technology: Arrange for video-chats through FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangouts.  Help a young child send a warm text or email with lots of emojis.  Just be mindful that you don’t infringe too much on the other parent’s holiday.
  8. Holiday Figures. Try to be on the same page about things like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. If one parent gets them excited for Santa’s visit, and the other claims he’s just a myth, your children could end up confused or heartbroken.  Try not to contradict one another. The happiness of your children is your first priority.
  9. Traditions. There’s no rule that says you have to keep all of the past holiday trappings and traditions. Decide what works for you now and what doesn’t.  Your cultural background can be a good guide for this.  Be adventurous and let your creativity flow to create new traditions that the kids will grow to love.
  10. Truce. One of the best non-monetary gifts you can give your children is the gift of good will towards your former spouse. Agree to a ceasefire. The lack of conflict will help your children succeed and grown into well adjusted adults.
  11. True Meaning. Teach your children the true meaning of the holidays, so they don’t get lost in meaningless materialism.
  12. Coordinate Gifts for the Kids. This is not the time to outdo the other parent to win the children’s affections with lavish presents. Try to get on the same page for holiday gifts. A brief email, telephone message, or conversation can avoid duplicates. Gifts that go well together can indicate to your children that you and the other parent are on the same page where they are concerned.
  13. Gifts for the Other Parent. Arrange for each child to give a present to the other parent.  Some schools have a holiday fair where children can shop for small gifts.  If that’s an option, give your child the opportunity to buy for the other parent without your influence.  If not, take the child to a familiar store and let him/her pick out something special.  It doesn’t have to be expensive – just sweet and from the heart.  This will earn brownie points with the other household.
  14. Plan for next year. Now. If you went through the agony of 11th hour negotiations this year, set up a plan for next year now (or after New Year’s). Everyone will be happier knowing what is coming, and avoiding conflict on the eve of the holidays.
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