The term co-parenting as it relates to our family describes the ways in which my husband, the mom of our teen, and I interact on a daily basis in order to keep our family’s stasis, status quo, the ship afloat, firing on all cylinders – you get the idea. It’s critical to keep our lives in order, and especially when it comes to navigating family holidays.
This year our teenager will not be with her dad and me on Christmas.
This has happened in years past, once or maybe twice, but nonetheless Christmas doesn’t feel the same without her. The sweet, silly kiddo who made the three of us parents will be going on an awesome trip with her mom. As I daydream about being a stowaway in their luggage, we’re planning our first holiday as the two of us and our 4 year old (and of course some wonderful extended family).
As I sat down to write what originally was going to be a guide on co-parenting through the holidays, it occurred to me that there really is no guide. Our situation is likely very different than others’, so all I can offer is how we have successfully navigated the holiday season each year. The one thing that is the cornerstone to our lives functioning in sync? Constant communication.
Communication around planning
Communication is the no-fail method to ensuring everyone gets to spend quality holiday time with one another. What works the best? Communicating with each other, not through our kiddo. I’m giving ourselves a pat on the back because if there was an award for direct communication, we would win it by leaps and bounds.
Children who live in two homes have enough on their plates – they’re busy being kids navigating their own worlds and emotions, they don’t need to act as a human planner or relayer of messages for their adult parents. If you try this game of telephone, it will ultimately fail. Not to mention, our kiddo is always sensitive to our feelings – if she feels that something may hurt our feelings, she’s likely to not communicate it (and vice versa).
And besides: the one things we always agree on is that our end goal is all the same: to ensure we have time with our kiddo during the holidays.
Every holiday season we plan for each side of the family to have time with my step-daughter and, ideally, some part of the celebration will include all of her parents. The last several years we celebrated Christmas Eve with our teen, spent Christmas morning together with her mom and then she spent the rest of Christmas Day with her mom’s side of the family. It works.
It works because no one feels left out. And, this year, it’s going to be different. And that’s okay. Did I mention flexibility works hand-in-hand with communication? Because it does.
Communication around gift giving
Our teenager has a December birthday, so gift giving can be tricky during this time of year. Within the last handful of years, the three of us have started giving “experiences” as gifts, and now that has trickled down to other family members as well.
Concerts, plays, special date nights, sporting events, trips – all of these are memorable and will create long-lasting and meaningful memories (and this is not discounting those awesome gifts that have been given in the past!). These years while she’s still at home are precious; she’ll turn 17 this year, and before we know it she’ll have moved on from our house.
Consider “experience gifts” as an option for kiddos who have many family members who want to purchase something for them. Offer up some ideas for an upcoming event they could take your child to. Get creative if you’re stuck with the Christmas shopping blues!
Communication around gift giving took us a bit longer to get the hang of. Our teen’s mom is notorious for giving awesome gifts and completing her Christmas shopping early in the season. It’s something I’m envious of – I spend hours in Hallmark looking over wrapping paper while trying to determine what the “theme” will be for gift wrap each year. Ultimately, I leave empty handed because I just can’t make up my mind about the paper that will undoubtedly be ripped to shreds. I digress.
We spent a few years unsure of how to manage the steady flow of birthday and Christmas presents and, at times, it did get a little tense and probably competitive. Speaking from my own truth, I believe each of us wants to pick out the perfect present and feel like it’s “on par” with what the other parent is giving.
Talk to your kids; you may find that they would be stoked to go to a cool concert in a few months or have a special overnight trip in a hotel with you. Whatever the case may be, having a conversation with your child’s parent about their plans for Christmas gifts help avoid feelings of competition, potential awkwardness, and duplicate gifts (I know, I know – there are worse things that could happen).
Communication around traditions
She may be a teenager now, but when our kiddo was a tiny child full of a different kind of wonderment during the holiday season, there were some things we had to get with the program on. For example, the head elf would visit her mom’s house on Christmas Eve to deliver a special key so that Santa could enter. It was so logical, and we had no idea that we were missing out on this special visit from the North Pole (due to the fact that we didn’t ask!). Luckily, I don’t think we missed a beat.
And while this piece is about our family’s Christmas celebrations, the same idea applies no matter if you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, or Chrismukkah. It’s fun to take the time to understand important holiday traditions from all sides, and if possible, blend them in with yours!
One of my favorite Christmas Eve traditions is one we borrowed from my in-laws. Each Christmas Eve, they would tie jingle bells to the dogs’ collars and take them on a late-evening walk around the neighborhood. The idea is that a child would be laying in bed hearing the unmistakable jingle of Santa’s sleigh, thus boosting their excitement to sky-high levels.
My husband and I started doing this when we celebrated our first holidays together. And now that our kiddo is older, she gets to accompany my husband on the late-night jingle walk and spread the magic to the children in our neighborhood, especially her little sister.
No two families are alike, and the holidays can undoubtedly be a time of stress, high emotions, and distractions that take you away from the real meaning of the season. Communication is key and co-parenting through the holidays is not only doable, it’s rewarding in more ways than one. Take it from us! Embrace your family and take time to be grateful for life’s small (and big) blessings.
Spreading love, acceptance, peace, and holiday magic to you!