Co-parenting during the holidays can be a real challenge, especially when your own emotions are most apt to surface during this time. But you know in your heart that whatever you’re feeling, especially if it’s animosity toward your ex, you need to put your child first. So be an adult and let go of your anger and bad memories for the sake of your child.
Here are five tips:
Put your child first. You may be worried that your child will not have the same harmonious, happy experience they had when you were all a family together. Or maybe you’re worried they’ll have more fun with your ex-spouse’s family and not enough with yours. Or maybe you find splitting the holiday time ruins everything for everyone. A divorced friend bemoaned the fact that her kids got on a plane in the middle of Christmas day., spoiling the day.
But the fact is, things will not be the same. And the sooner you reconcile yourself to that, the better everyone will be. It’s up to you to make it the best it can be for all concerned. This is your opportunity to show how creative and flexible you can be. Remember, your child is under stress, too, and if you can ease their stress, it’s up to you to make sure the holiday is centered around your child.
Understand conflicts of loyalty. Your child will no doubt feel torn between two worlds. They may worry about their mother when they’re with their father and worry about their father when they’re with their mother. If that happens, the child will never be worry-free and able to relax and enjoy the holiday. No matter how you feel about your ex, it’s your job to make sure your child does not feel guilty for enjoying themselves no matter which parent they’re with.
As much stress as you may be feeling as an adult, try to be aware of your child’s emotions. This is an opportunity to share an intimate moment by recognizing what your child is feeling and validating those feelings. Listen with empathy and validate what they’re feeling.
Tell them it’s okay to be sad. Many adults feel depressed during the holiday season, missing loved ones, and times gone by. This can be true of children of divorce, too. And yet, your child may think it’s wrong to feel sad, especially during the happy season. They may even feel it’s their responsibility to keep you feeling cheerful. Don’t let this burden fall on your child.
Let your child know that it’s okay to be sad. That surely missing family members and old traditions will naturally make them sad. Try to put a good face on it when your child has had a great time with your ex-spouse, even though you’re still angry about the way he treated you. Don’t make your child feel guilty for having a good time while they’re away from you.
Focus on good communication with your ex-spouse. If you have to, over-communicate. It’s better than not keeping everyone informed of comings and goings during the busy holiday season. Use the means of communication most comfortable for your ex and his family members. If Grandma only uses the telephone, call her, don’t text. If your ex only texts, then use that means to communicate. But remember, once you press “send” he’ll have your message in black and white, so don’t text in haste during an emotional time.
And for heaven’s sake, never bad mouth your ex or his family to your child. You know this, but sometimes a negative comment can slip out. Remember that it’s not good for your child’s emotional state to have his mother (or father) speak ill of his father (or mother). So, keep your derogatory thoughts to yourself for the sake of your child.
Start new holiday traditions. It’s painful to let go of your long-time family traditions, but you are forging a new life now, and old ways sometimes don’t work anymore. Absolutely keep those traditions that still work and that you want to keep, but create new ones. Maybe take in a holiday light show or volunteer at a soup kitchen or whatever brings you and your child joy.
Happy Holidays to you all.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact