From our friends at Gevurtz Menashe

Written by Tiffany J. Jensen, mom of two, and a family law attorney at Gevurtz Menashe. She is a member of the Oregon, Washington and Idaho State Bar(s) and focuses her practice exclusively on family law issues including divorce, child support, and custody and parenting issues. 

The holidays can be an especially stressful season for separated and blended families. They can present unique challenges as each family works to fulfill a separate set of traditions, schedules, budgets and expectations—but they can also be a great opportunity to strengthen relationships and make new family traditions. Generally, children look forward to the holidays all year long. It can be one of the most exciting times of the year for them, and although a big responsibility, keeping the magic of the holidays alive as a single parent is important.

To ease the tension and reduce the level of conflict this year, here are a few suggestions on how divorced or separated parents can hack the co-parenting challenge during the holiday season:  

Engage Your Kids with Positive Communication

Sometimes when schedules shift, big questions can resurface. Be prepared for your children to ask, “Why?” all over again. When we suddenly have free time, nagging fears and emotions can bubble to the surface once school, homework, and the regular routine no longer occupy their time. 

There’s no one “right way” to handle these conversations and questions because every family is different. Research suggests that kids tend to have the most difficulty when conflict between their parents makes them feel torn or caught in the middle, so it’s important to avoid making negative comments to or about the other parent when children are around. At the same time, you may be dealing with a lot, and it’s important that you find somewhere you can safely express your own feelings. 

The same research also indicates that it’s helpful to:

  • Give children enough information to lessen the uncertainty they may be feeling.
  • Listen and give children space to express themselves, but also give them space to quietly process what’s happening if that’s what they need.
  • Talk about these serious issues when doing a holiday activity together like baking your favorite festive sweets, decorating the house or playing holiday music.
  • These kinds of conversations are often difficult, but they can also help build trust and strengthen relationships both now and in the future.

Plan Ahead & Keep Schedules Manageable

Planning your holiday schedule in advance creates a smoother transition.  Established plans prevent disputes with the other parent and provide the opportunity to plan celebrations with extended family.  Let your children know the schedule in advance to set expectations, prevent disappointment, and build anticipation for new traditions.

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Make New Holiday Memories

If this is your first holiday season after a separation, it may mean breaking with certain traditions. Whether you’ve always hunted for the perfect u-cut at your favorite tree farm, visited relatives out of town, or hosted the annual Turkey Trot, finding new, meaningful ways to be together is sometimes more important than creating the “perfect” holiday experience.

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Plan ahead to avoid conflict over dates of events and vacations (it can help to start with a schedule for when children will be with each parent).
  • Find out what holiday activities are important to your kids and see if you’re able to prioritize some of the items on their wish list.
  • As much as possible, practice good co-parenting communication with the other parent about schedules, logistics, and trips.
  • If childcare or holiday festivities are part of your plans, make sure both parents know who is taking responsibility for organizing them.
  • Be flexible and try to accommodate your co-parent’s plans and wishes, knowing that it may lead to reciprocation in the future. Be as mindful of their time as possible to make for a smoother, easier transition into holidays for you and your kids. 

Give Your Children Some Extra Love and Attention

The chaos of the holiday season, on top of your other responsibilities, can make it hard to get as much quality time with your kids as you want. When you do spend time together, try to be present with your full attention on your children. Show interest in their activities, hobbies, and even the time they spend with the other parent. 

Co-parenting for many people means sharing the holidays. While this may seem challenging, try to remain positive. This season can also be a wonderful time to break free of your normal routine and create some great, new memories with your kids that they’ll remember forever. Take the opportunity to try something new, maybe get out of town, or create new traditions. Your children will love the adventure of new traditions and all the excitement they bring.

Give Yourself Some Extra Love and Attention

Making time for yourself is also a great way to lessen holiday stress. It could be as simple as 10 minutes of alone time with a good book or podcast or as involved as a getaway with friends on a weekend, when the other parent has the children. Here are a few other relaxing, self-care activities to consider:

  • Meditate (try a meditation app if you’re new to it and not sure how to start)
  • Go for a walk or run 
  • Prepare a nutritious meal for yourself
  • Schedule a massage 
  • Pick up a new book or podcast
  • Get back into an old favorite hobby or learn something new
  • Spend time with friends, family, or others in your support system.

Successful co-parenting requires flexibility above all else. Willingness to accommodate the other parent’s plan(s) for the children during the holidays may lead to reciprocal consideration in the future. Look at the holidays as an opportunity to demonstrate your desire to provide the best possible holiday experience for your children. If you have questions about co-parenting laws, how to negotiate parenting time, or other co-parenting issues, we can help!

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