For the last 5 weeks, I’ve been neck deep in writing my upcoming book Combative to Collaborative: The Co-parenting Code. Today I am happy to report that I am only one chapter away from completing my initial draft of the book. And without a minute to spare. Anyone else with me on the push to get ready for Christmas? Thank goodness the gifts are bought and here. But before I miss the opportunity, I want to do two things. First, I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas! Second I want to share with you a sneak peak from my chapter Co-parenting During the Holidays from my new book.
The holidays can be very hard for anyone who has to split their time with their kids between homes. I know. I’ve been there. It was with those times in mind that I wrote this chapter. Some of this advice is a bit late for you at this point. And of course, with COVID, everything is quite different this year. So please bear that in mind.
What you see here are the What’s at Stake and Combative Approach portions of the Chapter. In the book there are three more sections in each chapter – True Stories, Collaborative Approach, and The Co-parenting Code. Will you take a couple minutes now to read this excerpt and let me know what you think? I would love to hear your feedback. Do you find it helpful? Do you think it will help you or others you know? Am I missing anything? Or am I full of crap? You can send me a note here.
And now for your sneak peak…
Holidays – a time for joy, fun, and celebration – are a challenging time of year for any family. Everyone talks grandly about family, particularly during the holidays. Beautiful holiday dinners, hours spent decorating together, shopping for gifts, and laughing jubilantly as they play family games with extended family.
Yeah, we all know the truth. Many family traditions play out more like a scene from Christmas Vacation fraught with dysfunction of all types. Fights between relatives, catty exchanges among the women, and the men constantly working to one-up each other’s manliness whether that’s through material success or who can belch the loudest, if that is their calling.
For divorced people with children, the holidays serve up the added challenges of dividing time with the children between two parents, grandparents, and other extended family members and facing the devastation of missing out on precious memories with your child. As parents, isn’t it our duty to create family traditions? Yet that is very difficult to do when you’ve agreed to alternate holidays. At best, your tradition is either only executed in alternating years, or you carry it out on a different day from year to year. While this may work fine for you and your child or children, it is hard to pull off when considering the broader family. Grandma and Grandpa may always host Thanksgiving at their house. A particular holiday tradition may only take place on Christmas Eve each year. We all hope to establish lasting traditions with our children that we can enjoy together for decades and that they can take forward with them throughout their lives.
It gets exponentially more complicated when there are multiple divorces, remarriages, stepchildren, and even pets that have to be worked into the equation.
The holidays are simply a minefield of anxiety for parents who live separately. How do you get it right? How do you build traditions when you constantly have to consider the forces outside of your home? How do you balance what your child wants with what you want to experience as a parent?
I can only speak for myself. But I didn’t want to miss all the significant memories in my son’s life. My dreams of building that vast photo album of costumes and pictures with Santa didn’t end with my divorce.
So what will your holidays look like now that you and the other parent are no longer together?
You could just assume it will all work out and that no added effort beyond keeping your parenting schedule will be required. You could also not worry about what your child gets in terms of gifts from anyone other than you. Among the many ways parents fall short when planning their children’s holiday experiences after they split are the following:
Not working with the other parent to plan the holiday schedule with the kids
Look, when you were with the other parent under the same roof, you had to consider their schedule when planning activities with the kids. Now that you live separately, it’s even more important. Otherwise, your kids may be double booked for family gatherings or holiday parties.
Even if you have a standing schedule with the other parent, those surrounding you who plan all manner of holiday events don’t have this at top of mind when making their plans. So don’t be so rigid with your custody schedule that you can’t make room for unexpected yet very special holiday parties and activities.
Clinging steadfastly to traditions
Why is this combative? Because doing so may be unrealistic and put undue hardship on those around you to accommodate circumstances which no longer make sense. It also fails to consider the needs and desires of everyone else in this scenario including your kids and the other parent.
Time and circumstances do not stand still. If you get too caught up in recreating the holidays you enjoyed as a kid, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Not only has the world changed, but if you didn’t grow up as the child of co-parents, you’re reference point is invalid. While you may be able to keep some traditions, you may have to carry them out a bit differently or concede them entirely if they no longer work in your current circumstances.
Additionally, as you cling to this outdated and out-of-reach version of the holidays, you miss the opportunity to create a new, improved, and realistic version.
Lastly, are you over-romanticizing your past? If you think about the last Christmas or Hanukah you had with your ex and the kids, was it really magical? Or was it full of animosity, relationship stress, or deceitful behaviors going on under the surface?
Failing to include the in-laws in holiday planning
While it would be nice if your ex would fulfill this responsibility, some will not. You probably have a good idea based on their behavior when you were together whether or not you can rely on them to let Grandma and Grandpa know what Junior wants for Christmas. Might they entirely forget to remind their sister who hosts the big family gathering that the kids’ schedule is now different?
You can stick with the idea that it’s the ex’s responsibility to handle this stuff now if you want. But in the end, if your kids miss out on a super-fun gift exchange with their cousins where Santa showed up in person, the first thing they are going to think isn’t going to be that Dad failed to plan. They will just remember that they were at Mom’s. Once again mom and dad’s divorce has ruined their lives.
Furthermore, they could think they were forgotten or intentionally left out of the celebration. Wouldn’t it just be better to proactively communicate with the in-laws to coordinate schedules, gift exchanges, and the like?
Failing to include your extended family in your holiday planning
Sure we covered the pitfalls of forgetting the in-laws. But what about your parents, siblings, and others with whom your children interact? Don’t they deserve the same courtesy? Make sure they know your schedule with the kids and encourage them to consider it when planning holiday activities. Share gift lists and let them know when some things can’t be worked out, kindly explaining to them why it is important that you keep your co-parenting commitments. This is especially helpful to those relatives who’ve never had to consider these circumstances.
Not working with the co-parent to coordinate children’s gift giving
Actually, the older your children are, the more this one applies. Often, the gifts kids ask for as they get older are more expensive – electronics, phones, concert tickets, etc. If you really want them to have something and think their other parent will agree, why not ask them to go in on it. And be sure to reciprocate the same to them if asked.
Beyond coordinating financially, I found it helpful to also coordinate what we were each getting for our son. By doing this, he didn’t end up with duplicates, unless having the item at both houses made sense. Plus the things he wanted most weren’t missed by both of us.
Checking out on the holidays entirely
If your divorce or separation was recent, you may be very distraught facing the holidays for the first time in this new existence. Maybe you’ve been divorced a while and sink into a depression at the onset of every holiday season just wishing you could return to a simpler time.
For some of you, your former partner may have created most of the holiday cheer in your house and now you’re in unknown territory, ill-equipped to act.
Oh for God’s sake, grow a pair. Do I need to take you adulting? Not only are you being combative toward yourself, you’re being selfish by denying your children the wonderful experiences you can all share together creating new holiday memories.
If you’ve never been in charge of family planning, hop on the internet and start doing some searches. Talk to other co-parents to tap into their experience. Ask your child’s other parent for suggestions if you’re on good terms. After all, they should want the kids to enjoy all of their holiday experiences, not just the ones at one parent’s house.
If you have to spend certain holidays alone because it’s your ex-partners turn to have the kids, find some useful employment of your own. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Deliver toys and food to families in need. Host a gathering for others in your situation or attend adult gatherings you never had the freedom to consider before. Attend church. One year when my son was with his dad on Christmas Eve, I went to see a chick-flick I had been looking forward to. It was glorious!
Turning your attentions to your new life at the exclusion of your children
Some parents become too happy with their new-found freedoms when the kids aren’t around and become consumed by the side of their lives spent without them. It’s fine to partake in adult gatherings and other activities you can’t do with your kids when you don’t have them. But if you start getting babysitters for them to attend a full schedule of parties your adult friends host and don’t also nurture your child’s holiday experiences, this is a mistake. They will resent the fact that they have no fond memories to look back on or may simply fail to learn how to enjoy the season. You will probably face regrets and may even become ashamed as other parents share snapshots of their wonderful family holiday activities.
If you’re a parent with a substance abuse problem, get help. Don’t make your kids pay with their childhood memories. It’s your responsibility to create whatever version of holiday bliss that works for your family.
Forgetting to teach your child the joy of giving
While you may not want to give your ex a gift after you split up, you should provide for your child to give them something. Set a budget between you if you want. Take the child shopping. If money is tight, help them make something to give. Failing to do this is a missed lesson for your child. When you give a gift to another person, don’t you enjoy watching them open it and seeing their face light up? Don’t deny your child the right to do this for their other parent.
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