Being separated from your kids at any major holiday or birthdays can be emotionally challenging. Your tendency might be to protest the agreement you and your former partner have already made about the parenting plan or try and re-negotiate the plans you confirmed prior to the holiday.
Chances are, the parenting plan and custody arrangements are far more difficult for you as a parent than they are for your children. Here are some important things to keep in mind when managing a parenting plan at the holidays.
Follow the Parenting Plan
This might sound simple. Even if you feel the parenting plan isn’t fair or wasn’t your ideal agreement, follow it. Not only is this your legal obligation, it reduces drama for your kids and former partner. If you feel the parenting plan isn’t fair, take note to re-negotiate it after the holiday, but don’t use ultimatums or refuse to follow what was previously agreed to. The kids likely know what the parenting plan is, especially if they are a bit older, and it will look poorly if one parent doesn’t comply with the agreement.
In addition, resist the desire to discuss the “fairness” of the parenting plan with your kids. It might already be highly stressful for them and drawing more attention to the “equity” of the back and forth can increase their stress by putting them in the middle of two people they love. If you make the situation calm and amicable, they have the opportunity to enjoy the holiday as much as they did in the past.
Validate Your Kids’ Feelings
Maybe your kids are sad about the back and forth, especially if it’s a new parenting plan, or maybe they could care less as long as they are having a fun holiday. Perhaps they are just viewing the plan as different and not bad. Notice what they are feeling independent of what you are feeling as a parent. Validate those feelings, mirror them, and honor them with statements such as:
I know this birthday is different than any others and you are brave to try something new.
I see how excited you are to have two Christmas celebrations this year at both parents’ homes.
I understand that the back and forth might be exhausting for you on a holiday and let’s plan to do nothing on the day after Christmas because of that.
Help them feel seen and understood in an effort to calm any anxiety they might have about a new version of a holiday.
Don’t Transmit Your Pain, Transform it
As a parent, being sad or angry about the parenting arrangement at the holidays can also impact your kids’ Christmas spirit or birthday joy. And, don’t necessarily assume they don’t like the back and forth. Notice how you might project your disappointment about the parenting plan onto your children and be careful not to make your pain about it their problem. Treat the parenting plan as a fact and commitment, just like the agreement to take the kids to school everyday, and keep your emotions to yourself about the arrangement, without transmitting them to your child.
Often parents want to transmit their pain unconsciously because they don’t want to feel it. Instead, take the pain, grief, and sadness you have around splitting your kids during the holidays and transform it into an opportunity. Without your kids on a major holiday, you have the opportunity to create new, fulfilling traditions, take yourself on a date, or practice some self-care.
At Center for Shared Insight, we regularly work with divorced families and help them find peace in their new arrangements with the kids and well as their new approach to holiday celebrations. We recognize how difficult it can be to celebrate your first round of holidays without your children. Healing from a divorce is never a linear path and something you might even need support around several years after the actual separation. Contact our team to learn how we can help you through the emotional ups and downs of these changes by scheduling a free intake today.