The Challenges of Co-Parenting
One of the most challenging aspects of co-parenting is spending holidays without your child; coinciding with that difficulty is the fear that your child will suffer because of your absence or because of fighting between co-parents when the holiday season arrives.
As we enter the holiday season, if you are co-parenting, these fears may be rearing their heads once again, or maybe, this is your first attempt at successfully co-parenting your way through the holiday minefield.
Custody Agreements in General
A custody agreement is, in essence, a written contract between you and your co-parent that dictates the terms of your custody arrangement. The custody agreement will set out how holidays are split, what visitation looks like, and account for any restrictions in place related to traveling out of state or making decisions about what happens to your child during the holidays.
A custody agreement is essential for a few reasons. First, once those terms are set in place, you do not have to argue or fight over the terms of the agreement. Another good reason to have some form of custody agreement in place is that an agreement serves as a paper trail, which will help prevent you or your co-parent from forgetting about any upcoming events and dates that you have already agreed to. Finally, and likely most importantly, a custody agreement will enable either parent to enforce the order through the court system if a co-parent chooses not to follow the terms of the agreement.
Your custody agreement will usually break up the holidays so that both you and your co-parent get the opportunity to celebrate the special day with your child, if not on the day, then hopefully just before or after the holiday in question. For example, maybe you would have the first half of Christmas Eve with your child and the second half of Christmas Day, while your co-parent had the second half of Christmas Eve and the first half of Christmas Day. Another example could be alternating holidays based on the year; maybe you get Halloween and Thanksgiving in 2021 while your co-parent gets the winter holidays and vice-versa in 2022.
We encourage you to work with your co-parent and communicate openly and thoroughly when putting together a custody plan so that you can come to an agreement that best matches the needs of your child.
Remember, when developing a custody arrangement, your goal should be in the best interests of your child; you should not be trying to take out any ill will you may have for your co-parent during this time.
Gauging the status of your relationship
At the outset of entering the holiday season, especially if this will be the first season where your family has separated, you should take stock of the status of your relationship with your co-parent. Much of the advice below will be easier to put into practice if you and your co-parent have a positive relationship. Even if you and your co-parent are not in a good working relationship both of you need to remember that when it comes to the holidays, both of you need to do your best to be a proactive co-parent. Emphasize communicating how the two of you will approach the holiday season. And above all, remember that the two of you should make your decisions based on what is in the best interest of your child.
The Intricacies of Gift Giving
Gift-giving is something you should speak to your co-parent about before any gift-giving holiday arises. This will be helpful so that you and your co-parent don’t accidentally buy your child the same gift and will give you and your co-parent the opportunity to land on an appropriate price to spend on gifts for the holiday.
Another benefit to discussing your gift-giving plans with your co-parent is that the two of you can make choices and decisions that will ensure that your child has an incredible holiday with both of you, and one parent is not left feeling outdone at the end of the holiday.
Another option open gift-giving communication presents is the ability for you and your co-parent to give a gift to your child together. While you and your partner may be separated and have no intentions of reconciling your differences, this is not a reason to deprive your child of the feeling of solidarity they can receive when co-parents come together for them. These small gestures can help to give your child feelings of stability.
Planning your Holiday Activities
Like gift-giving, especially when you and your co-parent live near each other, activities are another subject that requires communication before the holiday events themselves. Both you and your co-parent should be allowed to celebrate a holiday with your child; one parent should not take the child to every winter-themed activity in the area, leaving the other parent with nothing new to do with their child.
Another option communicating about activities presents is that you and your co-parent, depending on how you two feel about each other, could do an activity together with your child, much like the gift-giving, this can present your child with additional much-needed stability. If you pursue this option, you must communicate to your child that this is just a friendly visit. You and your co-parent must be able to get along during this event; an afternoon at Santa’s Village filled with the hurling of insults rather than snowballs will not help develop more stability in your child’s life.
If this is one of your child’s first split holiday seasons, do your best to make it an exceptional experience for them. Separation leaves many children sad and anxious as they adjust to this dramatic lifestyle change, so you must do your best to ensure that your child does not conflate those negative emotions with the holiday season.
Caring for Yourself During the Holidays
At a certain point during our transition from childhood to adulthood, the holiday season turns from being incredibly fun and magical to a stressful series of events with magical moments interspersed between. Unfortunately, co-parenting is not likely to make your holiday season any more peaceful.
Things go wrong, scheduling mistakes occur, and nothing will ever turn out perfectly despite you and your co-parents’ best efforts. Keep this in mind as you enter the holiday season and be ready to work with your co-parent if anything comes up. And if the two of you are keeping up open lines of communication, you can address any issues as they arise. If one parent needs or wants a specific day, the two of you can negotiate an equitable alternative if you are giving a holiday or series of days up for them.
When you are not with your child, emphasize doing the things that make you feel happy and calm during the season.
Whether you spend a specific holiday with your child does not matter nearly as much as whether you and your child share a good experience with each other while celebrating that holiday, no matter what day it is.