Practical Tips To Co-Parenting Through The Holidays

The holiday season has the potential to be merry and bright and it also has the potential to be extremely stressful and contentious. For co-parents navigating through it as one big, happy–and separate–family, there are ways to minimize complications and maximize enjoyment for both the children and adults.

Co-Parent Conversation

A pre-holiday season conversation is a good opportunity for co-parents to set a cooperative tone for the season. The conversation can begin with a review of the established holiday schedule. It’s less complicated if everyone is on the same page and creates space for all to enjoy the season. This discussion can expand to include plans for the school break, holiday traditions to be continued or started, and gift coordination and appropriateness.

Since the pre-holiday season conversation is mostly about the children, it also serves as a reminder for the co-parents to keep their focus where it belongs.

Center the Children

Co-parents are encouraged to resist falling into the trap of saying “yes” to every invitation extended by friends and family. Spreading yourself too thin when you were all living under the same roof was difficult enough. Now that you live in separate households the potential for overwhelming the children with too many social obligations only sets everyone up for failure. For example, if it’s a struggle to buckle your toddler into their car seat, planning four visits in a day maybe two too many–for both of you. Considering first what works best for the children, and hopefully including down-time for them, is the best way to avoid this slippery slope and keeps people and the situation merry and bright.

Let’s not forget as well, that even though you may have planned out the schedule for the entire season, life happens and circumstances change. Changes will inevitably occur so co-parents should be prepared to be flexible and cooperative.  Remember the goal is always to provide as much stability and joy for the kids as possible.

Of course, all of this may be less of a concern this year, with trend forecasts from Pinterest, Instagram, Google, as well as the editors from Better Homes and Gardens indicating that people will swap the holiday hustle-bustle for smaller gatherings and activities at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with fewer festivities to attend, the co-parent lifestyle still requires a degree of shuffling about to be sure the holiday season is enjoyed by all.

Commit to Self-Care

Speaking of “enjoyed by all,” although the child’s experience is the number one priority, the co-parents deserve a happy holiday too. A commitment to self-care is the best way to manage emotions, handle stress and appreciate the season before it passes.

It’s well documented that exercise is one of our best tools to boost our mood. If we know that the holiday season can be stressful, especially so for co-parents, then it makes sense to commit to whatever kind of movement is favored, whether it’s running, jogging, walking, yoga, pilates, weight training or tai chi. Beginning a regimen before the season starts is a great way to ensure it will be continued throughout it.

Lauren Urban, LCSW of Psychobabble in Brooklyn, NY said, “Self-care is not only about bubble-baths, massages or face masks (although I highly recommend any or all of those as often as your schedule and your bank account allow for them). Self-care can also have a lot to do with our mindset and our internal relationship with ourselves. Going into the holidays with well-managed expectations and an attitude of grace toward yourself is very likely to save you some real emotional discomfort, not to mention fighting with your co-parents.”

Lauren suggested, “Give yourself breaks from everyone, even if they are short, it really helps.  Maybe you wake up a little earlier and have a nice, solitary cup of coffee while everyone else is still asleep. Maybe you leave the kids with your co-parent, your parents, your childhood friend and go take a nice walk. Even short breaks from the emotional drain, that is a family holiday visit, is helpful.”

The body benefits from movement, and the mind from stillness. Practicing mindfulness is a great way to maximize the enjoyment of the holiday season and it begins simply with paying attention to our thoughts. When we do this, we can divert them where we want them to go. For co-parents, it’s common to miss past holidays spent together. Mindfulness helps us by acknowledging that thought pattern and allowing it to come, but also to refocus on what’s happening in the present so that we aren’t consumed by the sadness of holidays past.

Release the Need for Perfection

Let’s face it; we can do everything stated above and still find ourselves or our co-parents struggling or making mistakes. Showing ourselves and each other grace and respect will help. Release the need for everything to go perfectly and for everyone to behave perfectly. If you find yourself or your co-parent particularly argumentative, check out these tips for arguing in front of your kids.

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