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Co-Parents Can Create a Joyful Holiday

Co-Parents Can Create a Joyful Holiday

by Bob Engel, M.A.

The Holiday Season is one that we hope will be filled with joy and celebration, with experiences that will become the making of new traditions and be remembered with nostalgia. For all families the holidays are also potentially a time of stress. For families who are separated, and perhaps blended and re-blended, it can be a particularly challenging time. Expectations run high, schedules are changed. You can fulfill your desire for a holiday that everyone will enjoy and that will be remembered with satisfaction if you plan ahead.


Make a Plan

First and foremost: communicate. The adage holds: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Be honest about your desires and goals; be fair as you listen to your co-parent.

If this is not your first holiday season as a separated family, you might begin by looking back on your previous experiences. What has gone well in the past? What problems arose and how did you handle them? If you have a solid track record of handling the holidays well, congratulate yourselves, but don’t be complacent. Take time to sit down with your ex-partner and remind one another of what went well and re-commit to making this year equally successful. What changes have occurred since last year? Is there a new person in the picture, a new boyfriend or girlfriend, or a new living situation?

You probably already have a parenting plan in place and very likely it includes who goes where on what days. How flexible are you? What will happen when someone asks for an exception to the previously agreed arrangement? Almost no one does well with last minute changes. No one likes to feel they are being railroaded into agreeing or pressured to make a quick decision. If agreements need to be modified try to do so well in advance, giving all parties a chance to consider the new plan.


Don’t Discuss Arrangements in Front of the Children

If one of your goals is your children’s happiness, don’t make promises to your kids before the agreement is made with your co-parent. You know how easily a “maybe” can sound like a “yes.” Talk to your ex-partner first. Look one another in the eye and say, “I won’t make any promises to the kids before we have a chance to discuss it.” Have your discussions away from the children. It’s unfair to the children to have their hopes dashed, and unfair to one another to be put under the pressure of, “…but I already told Tim he could come to Tahoe!”


Expect the Unexpected

Even with a great plan in place, anticipate that unforeseen changes may occur. Make an agreement with one another that you will try not to let unanticipated changes undo your good intentions. Bad traffic and stores are all part of the holidays. Assume good intent. “I’m late because of traffic,” can mean just that. Don’t let holiday gremlins turn it into “You’re late because you are lazy and irresponsible!”


Watch Your Diet

I’m not kidding, and I’m not worried about your waistline. If you know that your children get hyper when they have too much sugar, be aware. You don’t have to declare the holidays a candy-cane free zone, but you can monitor and set limits if you know that behavioral consequences can be serious. The same thing holds for adults and their consumption of alcohol. In many homes there is more drinking over the holidays. This is not a problem in all situations, but changes in good judgment can derail the best of plans. Be aware. And if someone in the family has a history of substance-abuse, be open about discussing it and supporting them in enjoying the holidays without undoing their good work.

Remember Your Goals

Your goal as co-parents is to provide your children with love and security even though you are no longer with your partner under one roof. You can work together to fulfill that goal. Make room for your children to love both (or all) of their parents. Nothing will make your children feel more secure than to feel the love of both of their parents and to be encouraged to show their love as well.