If I thought co-parenting with my ex was hard when we were married, it was only because I had no idea how hard it would be to co-parent with him after we got divorced. And I can tell you from experience that the holidays make co-parenting even more of a struggle. Fortunately, I have found (and tried) expert tips for surviving the holidays with your co-parenting ex to make this "jolly" time of the year, you know, suck a little less.
According to family attorney and mediator Michelle Crosby, the most important thing to remember is how to compromise, even when your ex is the last person you feel like accommodating. Ultimately, your kids' holiday experience should be more important than sticking it to your ex. That said, co-parenting coach and author Anne Giannone recommends creating a plan and staying with it, so you can avoid confusion or any future communication challenges. Professor and author Edward Kruk, PhD, recommends trying to stay civil with your ex around the holidays, as your children are more sensitive this time of year. Kruk also encourages co-parents to allow their kids (and themselves) to grieve this time of year, as you form new traditions and adjust to the loss of old ones. No matter what, though, your kids should always come first, so be their advocate and keep things as calm and stress-free as you can.
If you are dreading co-parenting with your ex this holiday season, you aren't alone. Read on for some survival tips that might help you make it to the near year relatively unscathed.
Make A Plan
If you've been through a formal divorce, separation, or custody proceeding, you probably have agreed to a co-parenting plan that includes which holidays the children will spend with which parent. I try to look at our parenting plan as a tool to keep things focused on what my ex-husband and I both agreed to, essentially stopping any arguments in their tracks.
If you don't have anything down on paper, or you need to make new arrangements this year, it's important to make a plan. According to co-parenting coach Anne Giannone, once you have a plan, you should stick with it, and not be tempted to request last minute changes, which can add more stress to the already stressful holiday season.
Sometimes you need to meet your ex halfway, or give a little to make sure your kids have a stress-free holiday. Compromising with your ex is often hard, but according to mediator Michelle Crosby, there are ways to compromise about little things, like the day you celebrate a holiday or the time you do drop-off or pick-up to accommodate plans and make things easier on your kids.
While traditions often change after divorce or separation, it's important to get on the same page about things like Santa Claus and religious services. The last thing you want to do is create confusion or heartbreak for your kids, especially if one parent contradicts or criticizes the other. According to Edward Kruk, PhD, many parents choose to create new holiday traditions with their kids. As Kruk writes for Psychology Today, "In moving forward with new plans, parents become role models for handling change for their children."
Make It About The Kids
According to Giannone, the holiday season is the time to focus on your kids. As Giannone write for HuffPost, "Set aside your differences. Stay civil and respectful, especially in front of your child. Remember why you are doing this. You are a parent first and foremost, and want to help your child feel loved, happy, and secure."
Agree To Gifts
According to Kruk, agreeing in advance about holiday gift-giving is so important, especially if one parent tries to outdo the other with lavish gifts or has a different financial situation. Kruk writes for Psychology Today, "Equity is important for children; there may be an agreed upon spending limit or parents may make an attempt to still give joint gifts. The gifts being purchased also need to be discussed so that the child isn’t receiving duplicate gifts."
Don't Let Them Push Your Buttons
I frequently have to remind myself that it doesn't matter what my ex thinks of me, does, or says anymore, as long as it doesn't impact my kids' safety, health, or happiness. According to Love Fraud, a website focused on helping people recognize and recover from sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists, one of the best ways to respond to a toxic person is to ignore them. This so-called gray rock method of communication involves not responding to attempts to push your buttons or overtly rude criticism, to the point that you become boring to the toxic person you have to deal with.
Giannone agrees, adding that if your ex attempts to bring up your divorce, facilitate unnecessary disagreements, or criticizes you, you should not engage and schedule a text conversation for later if necessary.
Take Care Of Yourself
The holidays can be a lonely and stressful time. In other words, don't forget to take care of yourself, too. Crosby suggests making plans for any time without your kids that involve something other than sitting home by yourself, as it can be harder than you imagine to be alone this time of year. Remember, no matter how much you plan or compromise, the holidays are not likely to be perfect. They never are, really, even if you aren't dealing with an ex. Cut yourself some slack and do the best you can. It's not easy, but you've got this, badass.
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