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Co-Parenting During the Holidays

The holiday season is traditionally a time centred on family, connection and togetherness, which can make it one of the most difficult times of year for families going through separation or divorce. Learning to navigate the holidays, co-parenting, and the whirlwind of emotions that come with it can be really challenging and stressful. Whether this is your first Christmas post-separation, or you've been co-parenting for many years now, here are a few tips to help you navigate the holiday season with a child-focused approach.

Navigating Change:

You might be worried about the changes to your usual holiday traditions or your child not having the same experience and routine as before. Instead of dwelling on these worries, prioritise creating memories that bring your children happiness, comfort, and a sense of security. Remember that your goal is to create new, positive holiday experiences for your children that will stay with them for years to come. Try focusing on activities such as visiting friends, attending festive events, decorating your space, or enjoying special meals together. It isn't always necessary to change your traditions entirely, especially those that are longstanding, but you may need to adapt them to better suit current circumstances.

Navigating Schedules:

Co-parenting in general requires a certain level of adaptability, and this is especially true in the holidays. Ask yourself, are you focused on the needs of your child, or the wants of you and your ex-partner? Making sure your schedule is child-focused and that their needs come first can go a long way in lowering their stress and anxiety throughout the holidays, which are already a busy and overwhelming time for little people. If there are court orders in place outlining your child's schedule and care, adhering to them helps to ensure predictability, maintain routine, and guarantee quality time with both parents. This not only benefits the child, but also helps minimise stress and conflict between co-parents.

Managing Emotions:

Co-parenting during the holidays can be hard on everyone in the family, but consider how this might be especially hard for your children, who are now expected to split their time between their parents and other family members. You can support your child's emotional well-being by staying attuned to their feelings, offering empathetic listening, validating their emotions, helping them to name their feelings, and establishing appropriate boundaries when needed. There is a lot going on in their worlds, and keep in mind that as well as adjusting to all the change, they may also be experiencing loyalty conflicts. Keeping a child-focused approach can help to reduce any feelings of being torn between parents.

Navigating Conflict:

Conflict and disagreement happen in even the healthiest co-parenting relationships, but when it does, it's crucial to avoid putting your children in the middle or making them a messenger between you and your ex-spouse. Children pick up on both verbal and non-verbal signs of anger and ill-feelings, so do your best to keep these feelings in check, model respectful behaviour, and keep your children out of any co-parenting issues. Remember that your child has their own feelings about the situation, so be sure to provide them with lots of loving support, and show them compassion if they express stress, worry, or sadness, especially if they miss their other parent. Assure them that it's normal to feel whatever they are feeling and remind them that you're there to help them navigate through any difficulties.

Child-Friendly Words:

Words such as possession, custody, court orders, and visitation rights were designed for judges and lawyers, they weren't designed for parents, and they certainly weren't designed for kids. This language can be scary and confusing for children, especially when it comes from their parents. Consider family friendly alternatives when speaking about these things around your children. Their little ears hear more than we tend to realise, and it can be upsetting for them.

Instead of saying this...

Try saying this...

The children are staying with mum/dad

The children are at their other home

The children live with me and visit their other parent

They have two homes

When you visit mum/dad

When you go to your other home

I have court orders

We have a shared parenting arrangement

My ex

My spouse

Stepfamily, other family, new family, etc

Blended family

My child

Our child

I will tell mum/dad

I will talk with mum/dad

This is my time with the kids

This is the kids time with me

Looking After Yourself:

Practicing self-care is essential to maintain your mental and emotional well-being and effectively support your child. Softening your expectations, establishing boundaries with your ex-partner, and carving out time for personal activities are crucial steps to maintain balance and ease stress. It's also important to seek support and connection from friends and family, especially if you are struggling or are feeling alone. Be sure to take breaks during tense moments, plan downtime, and accept help from others when you need it. Think of ways you can occupy and enjoy your time while your kids are with their other parent. Find activities that bring you joy, pursue personal interests or hobbies, spend quality time with friends and other family members, and focus on self-care activities. Think of this time as an opportunity to fill up your cup and invest in your own well-being, personal growth, and overall happiness.

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