Making Your Holidays the Best They Can Be
Many people place a great deal of care into planning holiday celebrations for their loved ones, the reason being that the holiday season often encapsulates the most treasured moments in childhood. So, what do you do when you and your partner have made the decision to change the family structure through a separation or divorce? How does co-parenting throughout holidays affect your enjoyment of them and if you struggle in this area, what can you do to make the situation better?
The Importance of Planning
Like most other major life changes, it is important to take matters in stride and work together to grow into the new family structure.
This, of course, is easier said than done, especially during the holidays. With life’s various obligations and our long to-do lists during this time of year, it can be easy to lose sight of how important effective planning truly is.
Make Time to Reconnect and Align Priorities
Finding the time to connect with your former partner with a view to prioritizing the importance of making the holidays a positive experience for your family is key. Once you can join forces and have the same priorities and plan in mind, the holidays can, not only be fun, but a rewarding chapter in your family’s history.
There are a plethora of emotions attached to family traditions and depending on the dynamic of the family, restructuring holidays can be painful and emotionally taxing.
Here are some tips to help you co-parent during the holidays. We hope you learn some useful and creative techniques that you can integrate into your holiday season.
Get On The Same Side
Start with you and your former partner. Create opportunities to come together and address the upcoming holidays by discussing scheduling, the planning of gifts, your children’s holiday diet and any hot topic items that may come up. These may include visiting unvaccinated family members, travel considerations and anything else that requires more complex strategizing during the holidays.
Consider Email to Kick Start Communication
If direct communication is difficult, you might send them an email with your points ahead of time so that they have time to prepare and think about their answers.
If you are working with a therapist, this would be a great time to seek out their assistance and support. Your therapist can serve as a mediator, offering practical tips on how to overcome difficult emotional hurdles.
Commit and Be Accountable
Once you have agreed on a plan for the holidays, commit to the plans and hold each other accountable. You can choose to agree to share these plans with close family and friends to ensure that everyone is on the same page and can support your choices this holiday season.
Work With Your Former Partner to Re-develop Traditions
When working on how to plan for the holidays, use these questions to spark conversation and new family traditions:
- What do your kids actually love about the holidays?
- What are some family traditions that you would like them to have?
- Are there any ‘must have’ holiday events?
- What are some ground rules about unvaccinated relatives?
- Should you create a budget for gifts, or divide and conquer?
- What will the holiday diet be like this year?
- Who will be taking them for vaccines this holiday?
- What homework/projects need to be done and who will be supporting them?
This is also a great opportunity to discuss matters that might undermine an enjoyable holiday get together. Such items might include issues like bedtimes, diet and digital viewing. It is better to set some ground rules designed to deter conflict.
Prioritize the Needs of Your Kids
Focusing on the mental well-being of your kids will foster a much more peaceful and enjoyable time over the holidays. Some questions that you might ask them ahead of time might be:
- What would you like this holiday to feel like?
- What is important for us to do this holiday?
- Is there anything about how we are celebrating this holiday that you might have questions about?
- Is there anything that you don’t want to do?
Keeping in mind that they are going through their own holiday experience is important. Consider how they are feeling and address their needs appropriately.
Prepare Your Kids for The Holidays
If this is the first year that you and your former partner are going to be celebrating the holidays separated, it is important that you take the time to talk to your kids. Let them know that this year will look different. However, you can make it clear that while family celebrations may entail separate get togethers, the love and support you have always shown them will not change. Focus on taking care of their emotional health.
Acknowledge Any Negative Feelings
Acknowledging that your child(ren) may feel disappointed, sad, or unsure is critical. These feelings might come up and that’s okay. Your child can handle difficult feelings and you can handle them as well. Accept your child’s negative emotions if they come up.
This may be difficult to witness as it will likely stir personal feelings of guilt, shame or sadness. However, if your child can see that they have a supportive parent accepting of their negative feelings, then they will be less likely to dwell on those thoughts and will be better equipped to overcome them.
Prioritize Down Time
Schedule in some down time. The holidays are exhausting anyway and when you add emotional stress to them, things can spiral fast. Find time for free play for the kids and personal time for yourself.
Don’t over book yourself and let your kids know that they have free time to choose activities that they enjoy.
Work Through Your Feelings Before the Holidays
This one might be especially difficult, but it is an important one. For example, you might have a contentious relationship with your former partner and that, alone, can spell trouble for the holidays.
Here are some actions that you can take to support yourself in a manner that conduces to a peaceful holiday with your family:
- Connect with a therapist. They can offer you unbiased feedback, support and practical ideas on how to tackle some of the most difficult hurdles that you might be facing.
- Lean on your family and friends. It is helpful to confide in 1 or 2 persons about what you are going through. You will need the emotional support and depending on what you are confronted with, you might also need a physical hand in dealing with certain practical considerations if the context requires it.
- Accept that you might be triggered and there may be moments of unhappiness. You might long for the times that you were all together. You might feel sad that you are sharing your kids with your former partner’s significant other. You might just feel plain lonely. These are all normal feelings that are reasonable to experience with separation. Allow yourself to feel them. For some techniques on how to ground yourself through breathing, check out our post on the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique to reduce anxiety.
Wherever you are in the process of healing and moving on from past trauma, the holidays can be a moment where we can all feel triggered or fall back on negative habits. Taking some time to consider ways of dealing with your anxiety during this period is critical.
Effective Co-parenting Can Take Time to Sort Out
Healing from separation is a long process and finding a healthy approach to co-parenting takes some work. The best strategy is to start where you are and focus on the small wins. Finding family fun and connection during the holidays is the best gift children can be offered.