We often look forward to spending time with our families and loved ones during the holidays. Our children are developing memories that will last a lifetime. As parents, we want them to have wonderful memories. However, the holiday season can bring pressures and stresses that may interfere with that goal! Plus, some of us have the extra responsibility of navigating coparenting relationships with a former spouse or partner, which can increase the stress that we feel.
Here are ten coparenting suggestions that can help reduce stress for you and your children during the holidays.
- Put Your Children First and Act in Their Best Interest. Remember this one fundamental rule: It’s no longer about you! Ask yourself if the decisions you’re making, and the holiday arrangements you’re proposing, are in the best interest of your children. Despite how you may feel about your coparent, your children love you both and need to establish their own relationships with each of you. Work with your coparent so you can all enjoy and share the time.
- Reflect for a moment on your own holiday experiences as a child. Were those pleasant times for you? If so, you probably want something similar for your children. If you have unpleasant holiday memories, try to remember how you felt then and look for ways to give your children better experiences. Remember, this is a time of year for celebrating family and giving thanks. Regardless of how you feel about your coparent, be thankful for the children you share and focus on the fact that you both love them.
- Create New Traditions. If you are no longer romantically involved with your coparent, acknowledge that things are different now and work with your children to build new family traditions and rituals. It may not be the same as before, but it can still be happy and meaningful. Similarly, if your coparent is incarcerated or away on military deployment, you may not be able to celebrate as you usually do but it can be fun to create new traditions.
- Agree to a Plan and Stick to It. Open the lines of communication with your coparent for your children’s sake. Discuss holiday plans in person, by email, or by phone (whichever works best for both of you) until you reach an agreement on details such as times when the children will be with each of you, when they will see other family members, and how gifts will be purchased. Write it down so you both have a copy. You may also want to share the holiday schedule with grandparents or other family members to avoid schedule conflicts.
- Don’t Compete, Cooperate. Don’t try to “out Santa” the other parent. Your children are not prizes to be won; when you give in to the urge to compete with your coparent, everyone loses. It’s best to discuss and agree on what gifts will be purchased. Note, however, that one parent should not be made to feel guilty if they are not in a financial position to buy a gift that the other parent suggests.
- Inform Your Children of how they will spend the holidays. Do not let them decide or choose—that is too much responsibility to put on their shoulders. Let them know that you and their mother/father have set up a great holiday plan that will allow them to enjoy time with both of you. Your attitude when you tell them is important. Children are very intuitive; they pick up and internalize nonverbal cues.
- Listen to Your Children. Even well-adjusted children can become distressed during the holidays. Don’t panic, and don’t try to minimize what your children may be feeling. Let them talk about it. Listen to what they say. And never get into the blame game in front of them. Even if you don’t have a good relationship with your coparent, they are still mom or dad for your children. On the other hand, don’t overindulge your children or waiver on the agreed-upon plan because of a sense of guilt.
- Communicate and Be Considerate. Keep your end of the bargain. Don’t change plans without discussing it first with your coparent; and don’t involve other family members in the discussion. Let your coparent know about any unanticipated problems, late arrivals, or other things that may impact the original plan. Be considerate of your coparent’s time. Remember to keep the focus on the well-being of the most important people in this situation: your children.
- Congratulate Yourself and Your Coparent for putting your children first. No one is perfect. And guess what? No one typically has a perfect holiday! Accept that there may be stressful moments, unexpected problems, or mix-ups. Take a deep breath, smile, and keep moving forward.
- Take the High Road. Remember that only you have control over yourself and your behavior. Even if you and your coparent haven’t had the best relationship, you can set an excellent example for your children by purchasing a gift they can give to their other parent or by helping them make a present. If you want to go the extra diplomatic mile, do the same for any significant other in your coparent’s life who will be spending time with your children during the holidays. Consider inviting your coparent over for brunch or meeting at a “neutral” place for coffee or a snack for a short time before your children are exchanged. Small gestures can go a long way, and your children want more than anything to see their parents getting along and respecting one another, regardless of their romantic or marital status. These are the kinds of gifts that set an example for children and provide them with memories that will last a lifetime.