The holidays can be a super stressful time for most families. The hustle and bustle of juggling kids and Christmas parties can wear any good intentioned parent down. It can be especially stressful if you are one of the millions of American families that must co-parent during the holidays.
Finding a balance between keeping your child happy, your family comfortable, and your ex-spouse content can feel like an impossible task. We are here to tell you that in most cases, it’s not impossible. It does, however, require lots of practice, patience, and love; but it is doable.
I experienced a divorce nearly ten years ago, and my ex-husband and I have learned quite a few challenging lessons about how to best co-parent during such a high-stress season.
In the beginning, we did everything wrong; we failed to plan ahead of time, we were not kind and patient with one another, and we argued through every single bit of my daughters Christmas vacation. When I tell you we failed, I mean we failed miserably.
There is no real rule book on how to co-parent successfully or how to get along with your ex during the holidays. A lot of what you figure out will be through trial and error, just as we did.
Looking back now on those first few years, as we failed to co-parent successfully, is hard to do. We both genuinely love our daughter, and our only goal was to give her the best Christmas possible. Instead, we allowed our egos and emotions to run the show.
I was able to reach out to my ex-husband a few days ago and ask for his input in writing this blog post. We shared some good laughs, and even a few tears, as we recalled our first few years of navigating the world of co-parenting. We have learned a lot about co-parenting communication over these past years.
I’ve worked with my ex-husband, and we have put together a list of the most significant lessons we learned. We would like to share this list with others who are trying to find their way through co-parenting during the holidays.
This list certainly isn’t exhaustive, and while we feel we’ve figured out a formula, we want you to remember that this will look different for every family.
1.There is no “I” in TEAM:
This one is perhaps most difficult to remember when co-parenting during the Holidays. When you became parents, you became “Team Kid.” No longer were you playing on opposite teams, but you joined together and committed to always putting your child first. The team doesn’t break up when your marriage or relationship does.
You’re both still “Team Kid” during the holidays. You have to remember that your child has many team members outside of the two of you. Grandparents on both sides of the family, cousins, and possibly even other siblings, too.
Sharing your time with those other team members shows your child that you’re both still on the same team and that your commitment to them has not wavered. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is for my daughter to come home after spending a week at her father’s house then listening to her go on and on about her new baby brother and the fantastic time she had with her cousins.
My ex-husband and I learned that the more people our daughter has around to love on her the better. We are all Team Kid.
2. Plan Ahead:
I’ve been co-parenting for nearly ten years, and I can’t tell you how important it is to make plans ahead of time and then stick to them. My ex-husband and I begin talking holiday plans during the summer, ironing out as many details as possible. We even came up with backup plans, just in case something happens.
Talking about everything months in advance, rather than in the days or weeks leading up to the holidays, will help alleviate so much stress for both you and your former partner.
3. Be Patient:
Making plans and sticking to them is very important, as stated above. Never forget, though, that life happens, things go wrong, and plans may need to change.
I will never forget waiting for 8 hours in an airport on Christmas Eve because my daughter’s stepmother missed her return flight. She was pregnant, living in a new area, and miscalculated how long it would take her to get to the airport and through security. It was an honest mistake and one I could have easily made myself.
It took a lot of self-reflection and, honestly, love to get through that day. Love for my daughter, love for myself, and love for her stepmother. I can tell you; I couldn’t have felt worse about what happened.
Being patient that day was absolutely a choice, and I could have sat at that airport screaming, yelling, and ruining the already stressful day for everyone. Instead, I put my feelings aside, remembered that we do not live in a perfect world, and spent time people-watching. My daughter got off that plane in one piece, she was happy, and all of the adults in her life made that happen for her sake that day because we all kept calm.
4. Set Boundaries:
Boundaries were one critical point where my ex-husband and I both struggled. We so badly wanted to please everyone during the holidays. His family and my family felt they were owed equal amounts of time with our daughter, and honestly, it just wasn’t realistic.
Co-parenting successfully during the holidays means that sometimes you must tell other family members “no.” Setting those boundaries early on, and explaining that your child’s time is just as valuable to those on the other side of the family, can be a trick. It’s a challenging conversation to have, but we feel it’s necessary.
My ex-husband shared with me that his mother was often upset and frustrated because she felt that my family had more time with our daughter than she did. In many cases, she was probably right.
Her family set events at times that were unrealistic for my daughter to be present, not because she was with my family, but because she took naps or had work events to go to with my ex-husband.
He told me that around year three of our co-parenting adventure, he sat his mother down and explained to her that it was not because I was giving myself or my family more time with our daughter, but because of his schedule with our daughter. He explained to her that while she is with him during the holidays, it indeed is his time with her, and doesn’t have to be entirely shared with her or other family members.
He stated that having this conversation with his mother was painful, but necessary. Moving forward from that point, his mother complained much less, making his time with our daughter more enjoyable, and the time she had with her grandmother more precious.
Set those boundaries early with family members or your support network. Explain that if it were possible to do it all, you still wouldn’t want to, because your child needs and deserves not to be shuttled around constantly.
The holidays are your opportunity to make memories with your child. If what they remember is being in the back of your car going from event to event rather than quality time with you, then you’re not using your time wisely.
5. Keep Your Focus on the Good:
I could have easily fixated on my daughter missing her flight and allow it to ruin her entire Christmas with me. But what good would that have created? Instead, I actively chose to focus on the positives of that situation.
My daughter was safe, I had the opportunity to escape the craziness of my family’s holiday celebration for a few hours, and it allowed my daughter’s stepmother and me a chance to bond.
Because our families lives are geographically distant, I’ve had very few opportunities to get to know my daughter’s stepmother. I had to spend more than two hours on the phone with her that day figuring out our next plan of attack. That was an incredible opportunity for us to learn more about one another and how we handle stress. I chose that day to see the good through the bad, and I can tell you that her stepmother was very relieved and appreciative.
Now that we’ve shared with you our list of tips for co-parenting during the holidays, we’d love to hear from you. What have you and your ex-spouse found that works for you and what doesn’t?
Parenting is hard work, and co-parenting is easily one of the most challenging things anyone can do. Give yourself and your ex-partner some grace, and in trying times, choose to focus your energy on your children. You’ll look back one day and be grateful that you didn’t let the little things turn into huge battles.