Cooperative parenting during the post-divorce Christmas season means putting your kids needs first. Let the season be magical and your kids carefree as you insulate them from any animosity your feel towards your ex or his family. The following tips can help make the holidays easier for everyone involved.
By: Brette Sember
The holidays can be a challenge for any parent, but when you're going through or recovering from divorce, it can be even harder. It's not only hard on you, but also on your child, who wants to please both parents, and also secretly wishes those parents would reunite for the holidays "like they used to be."
1. Plan Ahead
Make a detailed holiday plan with your ex as far in advance as possible. Plot everything out on a calendar, including transfer times and who will be providing transportation. This will reduce any last minute negotiation, bickering, or disagreements, so that transfer can go smoothly. Kids pick up on a lot of tension at transfers and will enjoy their holidays much more if things are as calm as possible. It will also make your life much easier to know what the schedule is to the minute.
2. Go Shopping
When you got divorced you thought your days of shopping for your ex were over, but your child would probably like to be able to give the other parent a gift. If you can facilitate this, by helping your child shop for an inexpensive gift, or by helping your child make a card or gift, you'll add to your child's holiday experience.
3. Pick up the Phone
If your child is with you for a holiday, have him call the other parent. This helps your child stay connected and is also, frankly, just the right thing to do. Even if your court order does not require phone contact on holidays, this can help your child feel more comfortable.
4. Go with a Gag Order
Agree with your ex that you will not discuss anything other than the business at hand when you're exchanging your child over the holidays. If there are things to be discussed about child support, alimony, future schedule changes, or issues you have with each other's behavior, table them for a time when your child is not around. A holiday celebration that is preceded by parents arguing is not very joyous.
5. Over-schedule Yourself
If you won't have your child with you for a holiday, it will likely be hard for you. It's ok to feel sad, but you can stay busy enough to distract yourself. Go to parties and events so you will have something to do. Don't give yourself time to let sadness overcome you. Focus on how you will celebrate the next time you are together with your child.
6. Schedule Meals
A kid who is overfed is often cranky. And the same goes for a hungry child. The holidays are a time of great celebration, but it's also a time of year when people eat the weirdest things at the craziest hours... Dinner at noon, sandwiches at 11 pm, Chinese food at midnight? Whatever your family's plans are, try to coordinate with your ex when your child will be eating next so that you don't send a stuffed child to the other grandma's Thanksgiving table or hand over a hungry kid at 6 pm who won't be fed again until 8 pm.
7. The Greatest Gift of All
With young kids, the greatest gift of all is a nap. It's a gift you give yourself, your child, your ex, and all the family who will be around your child. It's very, very hard to stay on schedule at this time of year, but try your best to get a nap in at naptime for your child. It might mean going a little late to a family party or leaving a little early, but it will be well worth it. Keep naptime in mind when you are scheduling holiday transfer times and schedule well around it whenever possible. With older kids, downtime is important. Think how tired you are after going to your own family's events; then imagine you are your child who is going to yours and going to your ex's as well.
8. Lower Your Expectations
It is too easy to build up the importance of a holiday, so that anything short of a magical winter wonderland event will fall short. If you spend weeks fixating on how perfect you can make it, the big day will not measure up. It's fun to look forward to the holidays. But don't let it take over your life, or your child's.
9. More Is Not More
More gifts, more candy, more decorations, more celebrations will not heal your heart or your child's. A gift may distract your child for a while, but it can't change the situation. Resist the temptation to shower your child with gifts to try to make up for the divorce. If possible, talk with your ex about gift-giving so that it does not become a competition between the two of you.
10. Embrace Tradition
It's common for kids to want things to be exactly the same as they remember them, but in your family nothing can ever be exactly the same. Instead, you can take old traditions and fit them into your life in a new way. Keep things that are familiar and beloved, but build on them in new ways so that you can gradually create new traditions for your new family.
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Cooperative parenting during post-divorce Christmas season can be stressful, but it gets easier as time goes on. Keep reading for tips on dealing with some of the stress triggers and the challenges of the holiday season: