Parenting is a tough job no matter what time of year it is, but the holidays can be particularly stressful for families who are co-parenting after divorce or separation. The excitement of holiday celebrations, anticipation of gifts and the change in schedules can turn any child's world upside down. For children who are celebrating the holidays with parents who are newly living apart, the schedule changes and division of holiday celebrations may become a source of anxiety, especially if it is a source of stress for their parents.
If this is relatively new living arrangement, children will benefit from knowing well in advance what the holiday celebrations and parenting time will look like. They will want to know which traditions are changing and what they will look like now. If last year the whole family went to grandma Betty's for a big holiday dinner, they will want to know if they will still go and who will come with.
This can also be a great opportunity to start new family traditions. Coming up with ideas with your child about how you'll spend your holiday parenting time can strengthen your relationship, ease the anxieties of you child and make the time special for yourself as well. If you are looking for ideas, Family Fun Twin Cities Christmas and Holiday Guide has some great local events and resources.
If the parenting schedule over the holidays is not what you hoped for, experiencing sadness and disappointment about not being with your children is normal. Children often feel responsible for helping their parents feel better and might try to "cheer up" a parent in distress or feel the need to take sides in an argument over holiday time. In healthy parent/child relationships, the parent clearly demonstrates that their happiness is not their child's responsibility. It can be helpful for your child to know that you won't be alone on a holiday when they can't be with you. Make plans to do something fun and share that with your child. It will make them feel better, and likely help you get through the pains of missing them as well.
Co-parenting after separation or divorce has it's challenges, and it also has benefits when parents work together as a parenting team. If you need help navigating your new parenting arrangement, there are services available to help. I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop at Resolution Divorce Services and thought that parents might be interested in learning more about the parenting consulting and mediation services they provide.
As with any new situation, there will be areas of growth that will be painful, but there will also be areas of growth that will be joyful and fulfilling.
-Kori Hennessy, MA