The Holiday Guide to Coparenting
Founder/Executive Director, Co-Parenting International
Are you a single mom or dad with children that live between two homes? Are you a stepparent who has children with multiple parents? Or do you have a friend who is walking the path of coparenting with her former spouse?
I want to offer HOPE and help to make the holidays more enjoyable, especially for the children who live between two homes.
Having grown up as a child of divorce and now as a single mother, I understand first hand how complicated and chaotic the holidays can be. I understand splitting holidays at 6.00pm on Christmas Eve and wanting to be in two places at one time. I understand the unspoken expectations of parents who are trying to give a child the best holiday experience, and yet they have their own agenda of happiness that easily gets put onto the child. I understand the emotional turmoil that can come from the unrealistic expectations of creating the “perfect Christmas” with gifts, trees and homemade cookies. We all want the very best for our children and we treasure the sentimental memories; however, when children are being coparented between multiple households we must get practical and realistic with the overall process, first for the sake of the children, but also for the emotional stability of the parent.
First let me share what God put on my heart during my own divorce and working on the parenting plan for my daughter. Her father and I were going through all the details of her future life and mapping out dates and holidays when God strongly reminded me of a truth that has become the absolute filter of every decision related to her life. God spoke this to my heart, “Tammy, what matters the most for Angelia is that she is loved and secure 365 days a year – that is the most important foundation you can give her, not a Christmas full of toys and gifts or a New Year’s trip to New York–it is the stability of 365 days a year that will give her a foundation to build her life that matters most.” I remember the moment that I first had that thought. It was as if all the years of being a child of divorce were summed up on a simple statement: What matters most is 365 days a year.
With that as the backdrop, let me encourage you to filter every decision through that lens. Your children need both mom and dad and they need to know they are loved and secure with both. They do not want to be put in the middle of your problems or your unresolved emotions. They are not responsible to make you happy and they should never be your sounding board about their other parent. They need you to be a strong parent, emotionally stable and full of life! They need you to let them love their other parent, have fun with them, and to be able to tell you all about it without you getting angry, jealous or having harsh responses. Your children’s hearts will ache if you don’t allow them to love you both, trust me, this I know.
I want to encourage you to plan ahead and plan well! By planning well I mean to pre-plan your emotions and pre-plan your time. If this is the first Christmas that your children will be with the other home, you must plan ahead for yourself so that you do not find yourself facing the experience of them driving away and then returning to an empty house, falling apart with emotion and then having no plans for that day. I often tell parents to make a date with friends for the “first” everything—especially the first Christmas the children are with the other home. Some ideas:
- Have a friend at your home as the children leave and then the two of you treat yourselves to a nice meal and a good movie.
- Plan to get together with another single parent who is going to be in the same situation and the two of you choose a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter and go give your hands and heart to others that need you to show up and smile.
- No matter what, know yourself and the emotional waters of where you are in the process. If this is new and painful, enlist your friends or family to walk with you!
I know that re-defining life is a process and with each step it gets easier. Give yourself permission to re-frame and re-define your expectations with Thanksgiving, Christmas and life overall. Your children need to see your strength!
I pray this holiday season you will find joy in the journey. None of this is easy, but it is all manageable and you can find a way to do it differently! Remember also that God’s sweet comfort is close and He has promised us that He will NEVER leave or forsake us – He is with us at all times and He hears every thought, every question, every disappointment and He catches every tear.
Be strong for your children. Be intentional for yourself. Decide this year will be your very BEST year yet in pre-planning for the complications of the holidays.
Tammy Bennett-Daughtry is the Founder and CEO of CoParenting International and author of Co-parenting Works! Helping Your Children Thrive After Divorce.