DIVORCE, SEPARATION, AND PARENTING THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS
Going through the holidays can be a blessing and a challenge for any parent. When your family is divided as a result of a divorce or separation, the challenge is more complicated. If the parents cannot easily communicate with each other, the challenge can be overwhelming, and it can ruin the holidays for everyone. You almost always have to communicate with the other parent about holiday plans. Anger at the other parent can make you communicate strong negative emotions that only makes a difficult situation worse. I have been watching divorced and separated families get through holidays for years. Some do it right, and some don’t. Here are some tips for making your holidays go more smoothly by communicating more effectively with each other. Feel free to share this with your child’s other parent.
Communicate directly with each other. Share information about the kids other, non-family activities freely (parties at friend’s homes, or trips to see Santa during the holidays). Don’t use friends to let the other parent know what’s going on; it will drive them away. Never use children as messengers! It causes problems that they may never get over. You can use your lawyers; that can get expensive, but it is worth spending a little money to avoid starting (or continuing) a pattern of holiday hostility.
Be businesslike in your communication. Leave emotion out of your messages. Subtle jabs and self-righteous comments are unnecessary and harmful. They can serve to ruin an otherwise productive exchange. The other parent is likely to react to the angry words instead of the main message of the communication. If you want to vent about how bad the other parent is, do to a trusted friend or counselor. Or write exactly how you feel in an email, and hit the “delete” button instead of the “send” button when you are finished; then write and send the “businesslike” message to the other parent.
Be nice. It may be hard to do, but simply being polite is a way to keep the other parent listening to what you have to say. Once you get rude, the listening usually stops. It becomes all about you and the other parent, and not about the kids at all. Listening politely is just as important. If you cannot have a verbal conversation, you can say something like “I know we both want what is best for our kid(s), but we probably need to have this conversation by text or email so that we can each say what we need to say without being interrupted by the other”.
Don’t blame the other parent for what you feel. Take responsibility for your feelings by using “I” statements. “I get upset when you don’t pick up Junior after school on your days. I have to take time off of work, and it inconveniences my customers and coworkers.” Offer a solution. Say something like “If you can’t get to the school on time, call the school and set up a tutoring session for him.” Avoid using the words “always” and “never.” “You always do….” “You never are…” These are a block to effective communication.
Parenting is not easy. Divorce is never fun. Mixing the two can be horrible. Talk with the other parent. If not for your sake, for the sake of the children. The conversation may not be pleasant, but it should be productive. Like everything else in life, you get better at doing the things you practice doing most. Practice effective communication with the other parent.