By Michael Aurit, JD, MDR and Karen Aurit, LAMFT
Co-parenting through the holidays takes courage.
We understand that you care about your children more than anything and want them to have a happy holiday experience. You also desire your own sense of peace and joy. The holidays can provide new perspectives and a renewal of spirit to achieve both successfully.
Courageous co-parenting begins by developing and understanding your future goals and reaffirming your core personal values. When you are focused on staying true to your goals and values, they can keep you on the right path when conflict with your co-parent arises. When you talk with your co-parent to plan for the holidays, courageous co-parenting will help you notice and move through any negative feelings that may arise.
Holiday planning is an opportunity to enter into these discussions with a renewed spirit of positivity. When there is positivity around communication, coordination, and negotiation, you and your co-parent can create stability for your children throughout this season. Parents might consider the following:
- First, agreeing to prioritize the kids’ experience
- Establishing a dedicated time in advance to discuss specific holiday parenting time
- Avoiding reactiveness by accepting that your co-parent’s unhelpful behaviors are not about you
- Making balanced proposals that you believe could be agreeable to your co-parent
- Being flexible and prepared to compromise
- Agreeing on holiday-related costs
- Avoiding disparities in your children’s experiences—think consistency
- Attending a mediation meeting to reach agreements with the help of a mediator
Let’s explore some opportunities for holiday courageous co-parenting.
Inside our online mediation rooms, we have helped parents creatively resolve novel Halloween disagreements. This year, conversations usually begin with whether or not the children will go trick-or-treating door-to-door—a more complex issue than the typical where they will go trick-or-treating of years past.
Some co-parents have agreed that their children will trick-or-treat with costumes that include a mask. Others have agreed to host a small Halloween party. While some elect to have Halloween ‘as usual.’
One set of co-parents with a young immuno-compromised child came to a very creative agreement in hopes of protecting their child’s health. Rather than trick-or-treating door-to-door, they agreed to walk through the neighborhood together with their child in costume. As they walked by each home in their neighborhood, they agreed to provide a treat for their child—ensuring that they didn’t miss out on the Halloween fun! Now, that’s cooperative and courageous and creative co-parenting!
To help facilitate productive planning, talk with your co-parent about which parts of the holiday are most important to each of you. Do your best to accommodate their priorities.
It can be very helpful for some co-parents to set detailed timeframes. Here are some ways to share the holiday.
Halloween is Mom’s Favorite Holiday, but it Lands on Dad’s Day
- Dad will have an after-school Pizza Party with the kids at 4:00 PM (spooky music included).
- Mom will arrive at 5:00 PM to pick them up — let the trick-or-treating begin at Moms!
- Mom may have the kids overnight or bring the kids back to Dad’s house by 8:15 PM.
Equal Trick-or-Treat Time
- The kids will stick with the parent who they would normally be with on their regular parenting schedule.
- The other parent will trick-or-treat with the kids in the co-parent’s neighborhood.
- Trick-or-treating may occur jointly or separately, by taking turns, if any tension exists between co-parents.
Kids are relieved when each of their parents positively reinforces their relationship with their other parent. This releases children from “the middle” and allows them to enjoy their relationships with both parents without guilt, shame, or fear. To be a courageous co-parent, you must put your children’s needs first at all times.
Although it might not be easy to compliment your co-parent, or to express gratitude towards them, showing support for your co-parent will help your kids feel secure and happy. After all, that is the most important aspect of any holiday.
Even small steps toward mutual co-parenting can start you both down a road that best supports your children’s emotional well-being. Here are some ideas to get you moving in the right direction:
- Before dinner, make a video of each child expressing why they are grateful for their other parent, and send the video to your co-parent. To kick courageousness up a notch, make your own statement of gratitude as well.
- In the presence of your kids, express your thankfulness for your co-parent.
Thanksgiving #1 & #2 Tradition
Most parents chose alternate years where the children spend Thanksgiving. In even-numbered years the kids are with Mom. In odd-numbered years they are with Dad.
Co-Parents can stick with this approach but introduce what we call “Thanksgiving #1 and Thanksgiving #2”. Thanksgiving #1 is defined as Thursday morning to Friday morning, and Thanksgiving #2 is defined as Friday morning to Saturday morning. Co-Parents alternate who has Thanksgiving Day (#1) and who has a second Thanksgiving (#2) on Friday evening. Especially when children are young, parents can normalize a “Second Thanksgiving” tradition. Children may feel relieved and will likely be excited for double turkey time or an entirely new tradition of a Pizza and Ice Cream dinner for Thanksgiving #2.
Holidays create happy memories such as hanging stockings, drinking hot chocolate, and children playing around the Christmas tree. As co-parents, you can continue these traditions, but you also have the opportunity to create new wonderful festivities that fit with your parenting time agreements.
Some co-parents meet with a family mediator each year to plan their holiday schedules and discuss any other possible updates or modifications to their Parenting Plan. Getting support from a mediator can help keep tension low and help your family, and especially your kids, to have a peaceful and joyful holiday.
Traditional Odds and Evens Option
The “Christmas Eve” holiday is usually defined as the afternoon of December 24th to the afternoon of December 25th. And “Christmas Day” is usually defined as the afternoon of December 25th to the afternoon of December 26th. The children alternate being with Dad on Christmas Eve in even-numbered years and Mom in odd-numbered years.
This option allows each parent to have time with the children on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It also provides consistency and clarity to the schedule. When co-parents are planning, they should keep in mind that this option can be especially difficult for younger children.
Alternatively, you can maintain family traditions by agreeing that the children always spend Christmas Eve with Mom and always spend Christmas Day with Dad. Where the children spend the night can alternate each year.
Shared Time For Present Opening Option
We have seen parents successfully gather to open presents with their children each year. An agreement might be:
“The parent who does not have the children on Christmas morning is invited to share in the present-opening from 8:00 AM – 11:00 AM on Christmas Day.”
This can create a wonderful experience for children if the co-parents ensure a conflict-free environment. As a bonus, parents can share the cost of more expensive gifts and avoid competitive gift-giving.
Agreement Each Year Option
A new holiday schedule each year is beneficial for those whose schedules are different each year. A flexible schedule provides room for creativity. This option allows you to create plans long before your children start asking for specific plans. Your agreement could look like this:
Both parents will confer on October 1, each year, and mutually agree upon the details of the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day parenting time schedule. Parents will share the holiday equally unless otherwise mutually agreed.
This option works really well for many families but can lack consistency and be difficult for parents whose schedules are not predictable far in advance.
The Option to Travel, But Equal Time Otherwise
When parents want the option to travel out-of-state over the holiday, the agreement below provides for flexibility.
Dad has kids in odd-numbered years, and Mom has them in even-numbered years, with the option to travel with the children outside of Arizona on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Should Dad remain in the Phoenix area, Dad will have Christmas Eve and overnight parenting time, and Mom will have Christmas Day and overnight parenting time. Dad will notify Mom each year, no later than December 1, whether he plans to travel or remain local. The same agreement applies to Mom in the “odd” years.
This option is ideal when parents want to travel with their children over the holidays and eliminates the need to move the children back and forth between homes. And when parents choose not to travel, the children benefit from seeing both parents.
Co-parents can begin to view the holidays as a chance to have conversations about what will work best for their children. When parents courageously express what is important to them and show that they care about what is important to the other parent, it can be a turning point in their co-parenting relationship.
We believe in your ability to create the ideal holiday season for you and your children after separation or divorce. We wish you a courageous, happy, and healthy holiday season.
Michael Aurit, JD, MDR, and Karen Aurit, LAMFT are Co-Founders and Directors of The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation in Scottsdale, Arizona. Michael and Karen are also adjunct professors of law at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law and Pepperdine University School of Law. To learn more about healthy co-parenting, visit www.auritmediation.com