It’s entirely possible that 2020 will go down in the history books as “The Year like No Other.” And this holiday season is certainly no exception.
When you’re raising children out of two homes, holiday co-parenting can quickly become a point of intense friction between. Add in the dynamics of a pandemic, and you can bet stress levels will be off the hook.So how can you bypass the chaos and focus more on the calm for you and your kids?
Here are eight top tips for holiday co-parenting during Covid you might want to think about tucking under your holiday belt.
1. Coordinate with your co-parent.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but TBH, lots of co-parents skip this step. Some put off the conversation to avoid additional conflict, while others make the mistake of assuming things will be just like last year. And some hope that if they wait till the last minute, the other parent won’t be able to object.
To avoid any misunderstandings and that will create a more stressful situation for your kids, before mapping out your holiday plans, make a point to coordinate with your co-parent.
Holiday co-parenting is never easy. This year is potentially going to be more complicated than ever. In addition to discussing the schedule, also be sure to share information about who the children will have contact with and if you plan on traveling. Since circumstances surrounding the pandemic can change at a moment’s notice, it may also be a good idea to discuss a plan “B” with your co-parent.
So everyone is crystal clear, go the extra mile and put your holiday co-parenting agreement in writing. You don’t need to make it super formal. A quick text or email should do the trick. While it may seem like a hassle to follow-up, putting pen to paper (metaphorically speaking) keeps everyone on the same page.
2. Focus more on flexible and less on fair.
When it comes to how time is spent between households, many co-parents get over-focused on how to divide children’s holiday time fairly.
Sadly, once the holidays hit, lots of coparents get caught up in haggling over how time gets spent with each side of the family for celebrations and seasonal events.
Of course, it’s only natural to want your children to be a part of special holiday plans. However, there is NOTHING special about seeing parents fight over where children should be for the holidays.
Avoid adding to your children’s seasonal stress by thinking about the schedule from their point of view. When kids look back at their childhood, they don’t think about a date on the calendar. Instead, they remember what made a moment meaningful and being with YOU.
Do your best this holiday season to focus on being flexible over fair. Be willing to make adjustments in your holiday co-parenting schedule that make things easier for your children and allow them to enjoy this time of year.
After all, what do you think matters most to your kids? Where they spend their holiday or their parents fighting about where they spend their holiday?
3. Talk with kids about what will change and what will stay the same.
Although it may be a conversation you wish you didn’t have to have, it helps children to know what this pandemic holiday season will look like for the family. Instead of approaching it with a sense of dread, frame your discussion around what will be different and what will stay the same.
During your holiday co-parenting chat, also talk about how time will be spent between your children’s two homes. Keep in mind, the recommendation about keeping things “crystal clear” with your co-parent also applies to kids. To avoid confusion, make a color-coded holiday calendar that maps out where kids will be for the holidays and hang in your home. For older children, consider texting the schedule to them or creating a family calendar they can access online.
More Holiday Co-Parenting Tips
- Don’t make different devastating.
While traditions are important, this year, adopting an “out with the old” philosophy may not be a bad idea. Instead of just going through the motions, use the pandemic to be creative and explore other ways to celebrate.
Ask yourself, which holiday traditions make sense and where there might be room to switch things up? Remember, you don’t have to re-shape the whole holiday. Rather think about doing one thing different that you and your children can enjoy together. (i.e., maybe you decide to spend the day in your pajamas baking cookies, eat pizza for dinner one night while binge-watching your favorite Christmas movies, or perhaps talk about how you could help someone else in need as a family.)
- Be grateful.
Interestingly, some of the most powerful things we can do are also the ones we often overlook. Research shows that an “attitude of gratitude” can go a long way towards cultivating happiness and directing our focus towards what really matters in life.
Acknowledging what you are grateful for can also be a great activity to do with your children. During holidays, consider establishing a daily gratitude practice into your family life. You could use mealtimes as a way to have everyone share what they’re grateful for or perhaps hang a whiteboard in your house so family members can write about something they appreciate daily.
In my family, one of the ways we practiced gratitude during the holidays was to acknowledge people in our community that we appreciated. One year my children and I baked Christmas treats for the crew that picks up our trash, our local fire department, and our neighborhood postal workers. Gestures don’t have to be big to be meaningful. Now more than ever, recognizing others even in small ways, can have a huge impact.
- Reassure children that as a family, you can handle hard things.
Many times when it comes to challenges in life, parents underestimate what their children can handle. Although there are many things about the pandemic that have made life more complicated, difficult times also can cultivate character, insight, and determination.
The truth is resilience muscles don’t develop when everything in life is flowing right along. Just like when you work out at the gym, pushing yourself to lift heavier weights is how you get stronger.
When times are hard, the message we want to send to our children is that we believe in them, we know they are capable and can handle hard things together.
- Practice a healthy dose of radical acceptance.
Without a doubt, there will be things about this holiday that you may not be able to control or change. When circumstances crop up that aren’t part of your plan or how you want them to be, avoid letting your holiday get highjacked by “what should be” instead of “what is.”
Let’s say you’d like to be able to have a conversation about COVID concerns with your coparent, but they refuse to hear you out. You could spend a lot of emotional energy wishing they would change their mind, telling yourself it shouldn’t be this way, or continually getting work up over their non-cooperative attitude.
Maybe this year’s finances are tight, and you can’t celebrate how you want to with your children. You could stay connected to all the things you don’t have, how much this year sucks, and continue to be super stressed over what you can’t provide.
While you may not be able to change your current situation, you can work on radically accepting it for what it is. Keep in mind, radical acceptance doesn’t mean you have to like the way things are or that you should pretend life isn’t difficult. It simply means you make a conscious choice to stop fighting against reality, accept things as they are, and focus your energy in a different direction.
Instead of trying to change your coparent, you could concentrate on what you can do on your own to keep your kids healthy and safe. Even though money is tight, you can put your energy into coming up with creative ways to make memories with your children this holiday season.
Is radical acceptance easy? Absolutely not. However, it’s a much better option than being miserable.
- Get support if you can’t work it out.
If you’ve tried to work things out with your co-parent and you still can’t reach an agreement about holiday co-parenting plans, consider getting some help. Due to the pandemic, online mediation has become an excellent resource for resolving coparenting differences.
If your coparent isn’t willing to use professional help, you can also consider approaching a family member or close family friend you both respect. Often, a neutral third person involved can ease tensions and help you find common ground.
Although this holiday may be one for the history books, remember different doesn’t have to mean devastating. While COVID has made life tremendously challenging, it also offers an opportunity to instill resilience, inspire creativity, create connection, and strengthen a sense of family.
Christina McGhee, MSW is an internationally recognized divorce parenting expert, speaker and author, who has spent most of her career educating parents and professionals on how to minimize the impact of divorce on children.While splitting up is undeniably hard, Christina believes divorce doesn’t have to equal devastation for families. She feels with the right kind of information and support, parents have the ability to be a child’s absolute best resource when families change.
One of her core beliefs is that divorce doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you a parent going through a bad time. Because she is passionate about helping parents get though that bad time, Christina also maintains an active coaching practice where she works with coparents all over the world.In her book, PARENTING APART: How separated and divorced parents can raise happy and secure kids, Christina offers parents useful strategies for dealing with the “real-life” everyday challenges of coparenting.
Most recently, Christina launched an online program, Coparenting with Purpose. Designed to provide moms and dads with an easy, convenient way to access critical information, it is filled with practical tools and solutions for managing the most common coparenting problems.Over the years, she has been featured on television, radio, podcasts and in print around the US and abroad. A few places you may have seen her are TODAY Parents, the BBC, The Times and Parents Magazine.
Married for over twenty-five years, Christina and her husband live outside of Houston, Texas. As a mom of four (two bonus and two bio) children, she has acquired extensive on-the-job training as a chauffeur, negotiator, short-order cook, scheduler extraordinaire and finder of all things lost. To find out more, check her out at divorceandchildren.com.
DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.