The holidays are important and usually stressful times for families that have separated or divorced or who are in the process. How do you protect your children from the stress? Children have good memories of previous holidays and will feel the loss of their family, especially during holidays. They are also vulnerable and will remember holidays for a long time, so you want to make those memories as positive as possible.
The holidays are for children and they should be center stage.
If you can be civil or friendly with your co-parent, consider celebrating part of the holidays together. Also, establish your own new traditions with your kids that you can repeat every year. Ask what your kids want. Talk to your children about what they would like to do during the holidays and who they would like to see.
Above all, give your kids permission to love their other parent.
They should not have to hide it from you. Share the kids – even when it’s “your time” with them. Let your children talk to or see their other parent on the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah) you have them. They will miss their other parent, especially on these days.
Your children will have a range of feelings this holiday.
Allow them to have these feelings. Reflect what you think they are feeling with compassion. Letting them know you understand and accept their feelings will make them feel supported. Do the same for yourself. Allow yourself to feel what you feel, label those feelings to yourself, and know it is okay that you have these feelings. The unpleasant feelings will lose some of their power and control if you do this.
Slow the pace.
If you are rushed to have your children see all their relatives in a limited time, slow down. You may not be able to do this if it causes more stress on your children. Chances are, they are still grieving the loss of their family and may need a slower pace.
Take care of yourself.
Be kind to yourself. Exercise, eat healthy food, get good sleep, enjoy close friends, meditate, pray, relax. Your children will reflect your mood and if you are calm, they will also feel calm.
When you are around your co-parent or talking on the phone, surprise yourself with acts of kindness toward that parent.
Make travel fun.
Bring along activities your children enjoy. Stay positive, keep smiling even if you are stressed. Talk with your children frequently. Look for opportunities to laugh together. Staying in the moment with them will keep you from feeling stressed.
Learn to use "I"Messages.
When you have a complaint you want to voice to your co-parent, use an "I" message instead of blaming.
Communicate, coordinate, and then be flexible.
Communicate with your co-parent early about the holiday schedule so things will go smoothly. Be very specific on dates and times. Send the agreement to each other via email so there won’t be misunderstandings later. Be prepared to make changes according to the kids’ needs. Make gift arrangements. Talk about gifts you plan to give the children so there is no duplication. Avoid trying to one-up the other parent with a better gift.
Put a stop to the trash talk.
Often your family and friends will try to show you support by bad-mouthing your children’s other parent. Put a stop to this. Your kids identify with each of you, so any criticism of either parent, they apply to themselves.
When you find yourself getting upset with your co-parent or children, use the Stop-Look-Listen method. Stop yourself from reacting with anger by taking deep breaths, making yourself aware of your feelings. Look at all your options before responding and choose which will best prevent conflict from escalating. Listen to your better nature and choose the response that shows understanding, wisdom, and kindness.
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