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Better, Not Bitter: Three F’s for Holiday Co-Parenting Success!

Happy Thanksgiving

Better, Not Bitter:
Three F’s for Holiday Co-parenting Success!

I had a déjà-vu moment the other day. I was in Target seriously focused on the list of things I needed to purchase when I overheard a conversation, well, one-half of a conversation a woman down the aisle was having with her child’s dad via cell phone. Their discussion concerned coordinating schedules to accommodate the child for a Halloween event. Although I couldn’t tell if they were experiencing the normal ‘two-parent working/business travel/crazy schedule’ life challenges or were divorced, the issue was a point of contention.

It reminded me of a time in my life when those conversations occurred far too frequently between my son’s father and me. I have to admit, the holidays are hardest of all to manage. Now that we are about to approach some really big holidays for many Americans – Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas – the probability of a negative interaction when planning for the children is greatly increased. Since our separation and then divorce, my ex and I have had far fewer of those tough conversations. These days they’re a rare occurrence. But it took some work to get here.

For me, holidays are all about making memories. When the day is over, that’s all you have left. That’s why you spend 12+ hours cooking food that people are going to inhale in less than 30 minutes. That’s why you laugh at the stories you’ve heard 100 times before from your aunt, uncle or cousin you only see a few times a year. That’s why you coordinate and navigate all the details to ensure things turn out just the way you hope.

When you’re co-parenting sometimes you have to accept that things won’t always work out the way you hope. That doesn’t mean they won’t be good. It just means to successfully co-parent during the holidays you have to have to focus on three things.

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You already know family is important. Kids want to know where they belong. They need to feel like they ‘fit’ somewhere. That somewhere should start with their family. When you’re divorced, separated or no longer a couple the importance of family is magnified for children.

Last year my youngest son decided to spend Christmas with his older sister and her family. She is my ex’s youngest daughter from his first marriage. She is a wonderful young woman with a great husband and family but they live 250 miles away. It was hard for me to be happy and supportive for the first five seconds after he asked if he could go. Once my selfish thoughts subsided, I was able to be thrilled for reaching this stage where he felt confident I would support his desire to be with his dad’s side of the family on this special day. I won’t say I didn’t shed a couple of tears on Christmas morning when I knew I wouldn’t see his face that day. But I knew being there was good for him.

Months later, I read this article confirming how important it is for children to know their family and it’s history. It’s only though spending time with both sides of your family that you gain a true understanding of who you are. Even though it’s not often easy, keeping family as the focus puts the emotional well-being of your child first. It’s a win-win situation for everyone in the long run.

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Friends can be like family. Many people include friends as part of their holiday celebrations. Especially when relations between you and your ex are not where they should be, don’t forget that other people you love can be part of your holiday traditions.

One divorced woman that participated in a workshop I led, explained that she established her own tradition with her children and a friend who was also divorced with kids. They both had tough co-parenting situations and wanted something fun and positive to do with their children following a Christmas day of shuttling between two households and juggling the children with their ex-spouses and respective families. So they decided that December 26th, Boxing Day would be a special day for them to eat Jamaican food, listen to reggae music, dance and have fun with their kids. They carried on this tradition for over 10 years and built wonderful memories that knitted their families together forever.

The most important thing is to get together. Let your children see the connections between you and your friends. Let them feel the love from both family and friends at this time of year.

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You shouldn’t be the official scorekeeper.

Yes, I know you’re supposed to alternate holidays each year. Or whatever you agreed upon during custody negotiations. But sometimes things change. One year your ex may have a family member from some far-flung location coming for Thanksgiving. Just because it’s “Your Year” doesn’t mean you can’t accommodate your child eating there because of the special guest. We should think about what’s in our child’s best interest. And then let them see we have his or her best interest at heart.

Some people don’t experience their mom and dad making decisions in their best interest until later in life. As I watched Iyanla Vanzant’s show, “Fix My Life” on the Oprah Winfrey Network last weekend starring Terrell Owens, it reinforced the importance of BOTH parents involvement in a child’s life. He was 39 years old and still hurting due to unresolved issues from his mom and dad’s co-parenting decisions. It’s critically important, especially during the holidays, that your children see “the two of you come together for their benefit.”

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Make the 2013 holiday season fun for your family. But also make it meaningful. These experiences can be building blocks of self-esteem for your child. Something that happens in the next 8 weeks may be one of the stories they’ll tell to your grandchild in 20 years. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves, we’re building their family history every day.


Wilma Jones

Wilma Jones lives in Arlington, VA with her teenage son. Her oldest son is a college student not too far away. She is divorced after 19 years of marriage. Wilma is a speaker and the author of Living Happier After: 20 Women Talk About Life After Divorce. She blogs at Living Happier She’s on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @LivingHappierAf.


More from GEM:

What Life Lessons are You Teaching Your Children

Survivor Stories 2013: Melody Patrick

Life Connections: Mastering Holiday Madness

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