Going through a divorce brings up intense emotions in families, but co-parenting during the holidays brings up even more intense feelings of sadness, guilt, regret, and anger. The true spirit of the holidays of love and kindness can easily be lost while one is flooded with negative emotions. It is really important to remember what holidays mean to children and to extended members of the family. Holidays and special days often have a history, traditions, and stories attached to them. During the divorce process, many of the losses come into sharp focus resulting in the emotional thermometer hitting the highs. With time and healing, some families are able to overcome these negative emotions and combine certain celebrations and invite the other parent. However, it is often too painful and confusing to do this at the earlier stages of divorce.
As you plan for the holidays, always avoid any situations where there is a potential for tension and conflict in front of the children. Here are some cooling and comforting tips to navigate co-parenting during the holidays mindfully and buffer the children from the harshness of intense emotions:
Co-Parenting During the Holidays: 5 Tips for Keeping Your Cool
1. Do not make your children choose between mom and dad.
By and large, parents and children benefit when holidays and special occasions are shared equally. A lot of how holidays are split also depends on the ages of the children, the distance between the parents’ homes, and whether travel is involved.
2. Collaborate as parents to plan the logistics ahead of time.
When co-parenting, it helps to establish new traditions by including your children’s wishes and getting the cooperation of extended family members. Children often do not have much control over the parenting plans and scheduling, so giving them control over the activities and traditions helps them look forward to the holidays rather than dread the changes.
3. Give the children a sense of continuity despite the inevitable changes that come with divorce.
Some of the family traditions may need to change with the divorce while some may not need to be changed. Allow the children a chance to talk about their feelings, desires and acknowledge their difficulties while providing them with structure and hope for the future.
4. Communicate clearly in words, and non-verbally, the spirit of the holidays.
Love, peace, and giving are central to most holidays. For parents who are co-parenting, when the children are spending time with the other parent, the holidays can bring up unbearable sadness or loneliness, but remember that it’s important for your children to have experiences with both parents. Let your child know that you will be thinking about him/her, and that you will be OK. Don’t put yourself and your children in a situation where your children feel any responsibility for your emotional well-being. You may be tempted to say, “I’ll miss you so much, I just don’t know what I’ll do.” Rather say, “I know you’ll have a great time with your mom/dad and I can’t wait to hear about it.” Plan ahead to have your family and friends around and take care of your own emotional needs at this time. You want your children to be free to enjoy their holiday with the other parent and not worry about you.
5. It takes a village to raise children, so help them see the community of support they have, especially during the holidays.
Help them connect with siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, peers and their school, and prepare others ahead of time to focus on the true spirit of the holidays. Use the community support yourself to remember that you are not alone while co-parenting during the holidays.
Dr. Gitu Bhatia (Psy.D.), a former family mediator for the Los Angeles Superior Court, is a psychologist in private practice and adjunct faculty at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University. www.divorceworksmedia.com