5 Tips to Avoid Co-Parenting Drama and Have Fun on the Holidays

Are you co-parenting this holiday with your ex? Former spouses Deesha Philyaw and Michael D. Thomas know what you’re going through. They’ve been doing it for 8 years. Luckily, they’ve had good experiences, and they want to share them with you. As the co-authors of Co-Parenting 101: Helping You Children Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, they have 5 Tips to Avoid Co-Parenting Drama and Have Fun on the Holidays. Also, check out their website, Co-Parenting 101.

1. Have a Plan B.
Ideally, co-parents will have a previously agreed upon shared parenting plan in place that spells out where the kids will spend the holidays and what the drop-off and pick-up times will be. For example, the kids might spend Thanksgiving with one parent in even years, and with the other parent in odd years. Christmas might be split into Eve with one parent, and Day with the other, and then also alternated each year. And ideally, co-parents will stick to the plan so that their kids can anticipate and then enjoy their celebrations. But if your co-parent doesn’t stick to the plan, have a back-up plan ready. If you can’t count on your ex to pick up the kids as scheduled, be prepared to bake cookies together or play a game as a pleasant way to pass the time without focusing on the delay. If, on the other hand, your co-parent is always late dropping off the kids, make plans for holiday outings that start hours after pick up time, or the next day.

2. Remember that the memories you create are more important than the date on the calendar.
If your co-parent doesn’t adhere to the holiday parenting time schedule, or if the schedule doesn’t call for your children to be with you on a particular holiday, you can still celebrate whenever your children are with you. Some co-parents serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal long after everyone has tired of the turkey they ate in November, or they might observe Christmas in July. Kids won’t like their presents any less just because they open them before or after December 25th. Far more important than when you celebrate the holidays is how you celebrate. Celebrating in ways that are memorable because of the warmth and laughter you share with your children trumps fighting over specific dates and leaving your kids to fret over the uncertainty and the parental conflict.

3. Start new family traditions.
Your kids will remember your family’s holiday traditions from before your break-up, and they may want to replicate them. Or they may decide that it’s just not the same or just not possible without the other parent. Don’t force it. Instead, you can introduce new fun and meaningful ideas related to the holidays that, if they catch on, just might become new traditions that your kids look forward to each year. Non-traditional celebrations can be the start of new family traditions. Instead of a traditional holiday meal, why not try out new recipes and cook with your kids? If your family used to spend a lot of time indoors decorating and cooking, get everyone outside this year and go ice-skating or see community holiday light displays. If the days leading up to the holidays have typically been spent shopping and being on the go, slow down and hunker down at home. Listen to holiday music, make ornaments together, and read stories. New traditions don’t have to be grandiose or expensive. Anything that allows you and your family to be close and at peace can become a tradition over time.

4. Don’t make gift-giving a competition.
Are you and your co-parent able to communicate and coordinate your holiday gift-giving efforts? If not, that’s okay, but be sure to avoid the trap of trying to outspend each other or drawing lines in the sand when it comes to buying the gift at the top of your child’s wishlist. Parents’ bickering over gifts can diminish the spirit of giving for your child and put undue pressure on the her. And trying to outspend can put undue pressure on your wallet! If your co-parent tries to compete in this way, refuse to play that game. And remember, one of the greatest gifts that you both can give your child is your civility towards one another as you parent her together.

Speaking of gift-giving, when you help your child buy or make a gift for the other parent, you’re saying to her, “I know that you love your mom/dad, and it’s important to you to give him/her a gift for the holidays.” This is just one more way you can affirm her right and need to having a loving relationship with both parents.

5. Encourage your child to enjoy her time with the other parent.
Even moms and dads who have been co-parenting for years still struggle sometimes when they are not with their kids for all or part of the holiday season. For some co-parents, feelings of loss, hurt, or anger related to their break-up can resurface during the holidays and make it difficult to accept that their child will be with the other parent. But we as adults have to deal with our emotional issues so that they do not become burdens for our children. We can tell our kids that we will miss them, but still encourage them to go and have a good time celebrating with the otherparent. This frees them to enjoy the holidays without worrying about us. It may be easier to let go in this way if you have plans of your own to enjoy. Do something non-holiday-related for a change of pace, or scenery. Spend time with relatives and friends, or get together with other co-parents whose kids are also away for the holidays. Or use the time to relax and pursue activities that you don’t have time for when you’re parenting.

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