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10 Ideas for Co-parenting Through the Holidays

Or, have you been divorced for years, but still find yourself scheming how to get back at your ex this holiday season? Maybe you’ve never been divorced, but are part of a newly-formed blended family. Statistically speaking, most of us are likely part of one or more of the above. We either came from a divorced family, started our own divorced family, or voluntarily entered into a divorced family by marriage.


Regardless of how we got here, most of us feel pings of anxiety when the holidays begin to roll around each year. From Halloween through New Year’s Day, stress-levels are at an all-time high as we struggle with co-parenting challenges and emotional interactions with former spouses. Piled on top of our own stresses are the added stresses of friends and family, who sometimes make matters worse by taking sides, stepping in, or simply reminding us of the awkwardness of these events. This year, enjoy the blessings and festivities the holidays bring by approaching them head-on!


Tip #1: Don’t compete with your ex. If you are a recent divorcee or are in the middle of the divorce process, chances are that money is tight, your living situation is shaky and/or other things in your life are dominating your wallet (like legal expenses and attorneys’ fees!) Resist the temptation to compete with your ex, who may be in a different financial position than you, and holiday shop within your budget. Your children and loved ones won’t love you more or less based on the gifts you give.


Tip #2: Keep busy! Worried about being alone? Fill that dance card! Invite friends to come over. Volunteer at your local shelter. Spend time at your favorite charity, animal rescue shelter or visit an elderly care facility, where people appreciate and need you.


Tip #3: Think about your kids, and don’t manipulate or guilt them into spending all of their time with you to the exclusion of your ex. If you have children, remember that your focus should be on them. Co-parenting during the holidays can be the most challenging and cause the most stress on you and your children. Do whatever it takes to minimize their exposure to your emotions, and maximize their holiday enjoyment!


Tip #4: Be magnanimous. Be forgiving or act kindly towards your ex. “Kill ’em with kindness,” and watch how it disarms a person. You don’t have to go overboard, but sometimes a simple gesture goes a long way. Or, do go overboard and invite your ex and his/her new spouse to your house for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner!


Tip #5: Invent a new tradition! Though your family has gathered for fifteen years on a particular day to light candles or open presents, try something new and different this year. Embrace the opportunity to redefine how you celebrate your holidays, and the newness of the experiences you will share separately and together.


Tip #6: Clean house. There’s nothing more cathartic than a little spring cleaning in the wintertime! Toss out the old and make room for the new! It’s not just a metaphor for relationships . . . it’s also a great way to prepare yourself for the next phase of your life.


Tip #7: Find acceptance. Maybe you were the one who initiated the divorce, or, maybe you were the one who wanted to salvage your marriage. Regardless of your role, recognize and find acceptance in the situation so that you can move on with your life. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to understand it. You can have regrets for your contribution or you can just be angry. Whatever your emotions, remember that until you accept the finality of the marriage, you will be unable to open yourself up to new opportunities. Take the time this holiday season to allow yourself to move on.


Tip #8: Be creative! Resist the urge to spend your way through the holidays! Instead of shopping, get creative and make some of your gifts! There’s nothing like a personal touch to show someone how you really feel about them . . . and it’s a marvelous distraction to keep you busy!


Tip #9: Focus on others. Be thankful for the things and people in your life, and teach your children about the beauty of giving.


Tip #10: Focus on yourself. Don’t lose yourself during the holidays, drowning yourself in what used to be. Enjoy some alone-time, using the peace and quiet to be reflective and preparing for the new year.


Focus on this holiday season as an opportunity to create and share memories unique to your new family. As you progress on this journey, think about:


(1) how my words and actions will be perceived by our children;

(2) whether my words and actions are in the best interests of our children; and

(3) whether my words and actions are designed to foster unity and cohesiveness in the family.


Your family structure may not be what you envisioned years ago, but it’s up to you to make it the best it can be! What better time to start than in the new year?

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