By, Laura Lyles Reagan, MS
The good news is, you can have a happy holiday and it is possible to successfully navigate the holidays as a divorced, co-parent, even if it’s your first Spring Break or Easter apart. I am living proof! I spent 5 years single between marriages and I am a relatively successful co-parent of our two daughters. I have learned a few things about navigating the holidays as a co-parent from my personal experience and from other co-parents, in the co-parenting education groups I facilitate as a marriage and family sociologist.
1. Be responsible for your own grieving.
It is vital that you put your children’s needs first and do your grief work about the former marriage or your struggles with your co-parent (their other parent) away from your relationship with your children. Adult grief should not taint the parent-child relationship. My children sensed my emotional trouble. I wanted to be honest without burdening them. I found it helpful to admit that I was sad in the beginning of our process. Then we moved on quickly to a positive activity like our egg decorating or spring shopping.
2. Maintain family traditions as much as possible without rigidity.
Family rituals help define the holidays. I have two daughters, nine years apart. It is hard to find activities they both enjoy because of the age difference but one thing they both love Making a bunny cake with their grandmother. No matter how they were after traveling to see her in another town, we would get the ingredients out, mix, bake and decorate. While it was cooking, eggs were decorated and Easter baskets were prepared for the big hunt with all the cousins the next day. The living room was transformed by bedtime. The first year my ex-husband and I spent the holidays apart, I was shocked when the girls came in from a three hour evening drive back around bedtime and made a straight path to the kitchen for the baking pans. I was glad they did because Easter didn’t feel like Easter until they did. I was surprised at how much my girls relied on our family traditions, but I was grateful.
3. Be as positive about holiday time together as you can be.
If you have a divorce decree, the time designated with each parent over the holidays has already been specified. The courts try to make it as equitable as possible. The second year after I divorced, it snowed on Christmas Day. I have two daughters who had never seen snow. They were mesmerized. I did not want to share them with their dad or grandparents. I certainly didn’t want to drive three hours Christmas morning to deliver the girls to their dad at his parents’ house for fear of road hazards. Nevertheless, I did and I am so glad because we had a wonderful experience. We stopped at a roadside park halfway there and played in the snow and took pictures. There were a lot of trees so the icicles made a kind of ice castle around us. To this day, the girls speak of that Christmas with reverence, not only because of the snow and ice but because their dad and I proved we were willing to go to any length to honor them and the importance of family at Christmas. Be as positive about your holiday time with your children as you can be without pretending.
4. Make a plan for your time without your children over the holidays and work your plan regardless of how you feel about it.
The best kept secret of single parenting if you have a cooperative co-parent is that you actually get time to yourself. Even if you are still grieving the divorce, cherish alone time. Prior to my divorce, like many moms I considered going to the grocery store by myself, a vacation! As a writer, solitude is a necessary and nurturing thing so I planned a writing project while my kids were away with their dad. I actually got some of it done when they were gone. The seeds of my blossoming freelance writing career can be traced back to those bittersweet, lonely holidays. Creativity can come from the divorce recovery and co-parenting process.
Make it a Happy Easter!
Laura Lyles Reagan, MS is a parenting coach, freelance writer and family sociologist. She can be reached for parenting coaching through her www.heart2heartparents.com.