Perfect Strangers After Divorce

Perfect Strangers After Divorce

Kids. You love them. You hate them. But, they’re yours. And, after the divorce, they’re even more important to you than ever before. They become perfect strangers – disengaged, distressed, displaying avoidance at all cost. They’re lonely, upset, feeling left out, feeling unloved.

Time for you to move in on this dilemma. Show them some caring. Some trust. Some emotion. But, most importantly, engage with your kids. They need you more than ever.

Speaking as the rare custodial father, it really irks me to see parents that don’t seem to be involved with their children. Sadly, I’ve been dealing with that a bit myself today – my son’s been blowing up my phone with texts all day.

He’s clearly bored, and not being engaged whilst on his visitation with his mother. He even asked my partner (not me, strangely enough) to come pick him up.

Now, this is admittedly something that hasn’t happened in a good while. But it’s not the only time. And I see it with my own partner’s daughter, too, and her relationship with her own father.

Sure, parents and children shouldn’t necessarily be best of friends 24/7. And there’s always going to be some conflict of personality. It’s all part of them growing up.

But, speaking as a custodial parent, it does hurt me to see the kids feel like there’s no connection between the kids and their mother.

Therefore, here’s a few simple pieces of advice that would hopefully prevent some of the alienation that might occur between kids and their non-custodial parents. Hell, custodial parents may even get something out of these.

Perfect Strangers – Three Ways to Keep Your Kids Engaged

Talk to Them

No, seriously!

It really is as simple as that. Talk to them, regularly. About anything — that they might want to talk about, preferably  — at first. And don’t do it in a condescending way, either, even unintentionally. Children like to know that they’re being listened to. They want their opinions and thoughts validated.

“Parents just don’t understand,” remember that song?

Well, show them you do. They don’t need to be perfect strangers. They’ll start paying attention to you as well. And it doesn’t even have to end when their mother (or father) picks them up.

Heck, get them a cheap cellphone, one that doesn’t even need a plan that can be joined to WiFi (assuming they have it at their home), just so you can text with them. Trust me, they’ll appreciate that, even if you have to compete with Angry Birds for their attention.

Engage Kids in Activities

Boredom happens because, often, there’s nothing to do. They may be bored, because you’re being boring.

Now, yes, sometimes grown-ups have things to do. But, especially if you’re the non-custodial parent, your time with them is limited, and going back home reporting that “We just sat around and watched TV” isn’t going to inspire confidence. Nor is it really going to get you to connect with your children that you’ve already had a fair amount of disconnection from by virtue of the divorce.

So, sure, if they want to watch TV, why not watch it with them for a bit? You might not be totally up on Adventure Time or Regular Show, but that’s OK. You don’t have to be.

All that said, watching TV might not be the greatest activity to engage in. But, by the same token, don’t be perfect strangers either. Take them out. Head to the park and walk the trails a bit. Anything you can do together with your kids is good for the bonding experience. It’s one thing to say you’re there for them, another to put it into tangible actions.

Time is limited; make the most of it.

Stay Involved, Even When They’re Not There 

This might be the trickiest part. If your kids aren’t around, you might not be as inclined to try to keep up with the day to day activities of raising them. Out of sight, out of mind, even if you don’t mean it to be that way. Therefore, try to keep tabs on what’s going on with the activities they may not tell you about.

As non-custodial parents, you do have a right to know their teachers names and numbers, and be in contact with them to discuss their schoolwork and grades. Also, you have a right to know who their doctors are, and consult with them as well.

This is more background dealings, that the kids may not even be aware of until you say something. But it still shows you care, and try to engage them on that level. Believe me, even if they can’t consciously put it into words, they will appreciate the gestures.

In Closing

These are just a few ways that being connected, and being actively involved with your children, can be accomplished. The point here, is that just because you might be the non-custodial parent, doesn’t mean you have to be an absentee parent as well. Be involved. Talk to them. Do things with them. Just be an active part of their lives, like they really want you to be.

How do you stay connected with your kids when you’re not around? What do you do to keep your kids engaged when they’re with you? Let us know in the comments!

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When You’re Home For The Holidays

When You’re Home For The Holidays

Ahhh, the Holidays. That glorious time of year that we get to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years with our loved ones. Or do we? That’s certainly questionable if you’re home for the holidays and having to negotiate with your Ex as to whether or not you’ll see the kids. It’s certainly reasonable that the kids will regard the custodial home as “their home”. That home is more typically with Mom as opposed to with Dad as the Family Court system has traditionally not been kind or understanding to Dads during the divorce process.

Regardless of who is the custodial parent, we must always understand that it’s not our needs that need to be addressed, but the needs and wants of our children.  Kids clearly have the holidays off from school, and they have family and friends that they want to share time with. Dads Want to be and need to be factored into the schedule, but when? Negotiations with the kids and with the Ex are in order if you want to have a reasonable opportunity to share valuable time with your kids.

Some divorced families stick to rigid scheduling around holidays that have either been agreed to previously, or are perhaps court ordered in a support stipulation agreement. While it can certainly ease tensions to have clearly defined dates set far ahead of time, I also believe it is valuable to think about having flexibility.

After our separation, the mother of my daughter and I actually did have a fairly complete support agreement to rely on when issues arose and used that as the final say, though in most circumstances we simply communicated effectively about what our needs were, what our child’s desires were, and sought to find resolutions among our choices that would best benefit our kid.

I recommend having at least one holiday a year that is “yours” and one holiday a year that is “hers” and work to keep those traditions in line as much as possible. I would also suggest that these holidays are not the big ones like Christmas and Easter (or Hanukkah and Pesach if you’re a Jewish family). Making permanent schedules for minor holidays can help to ease the tensions surrounding the major ones, and also ensures you will have the opportunity to have at least one special time of year with your kids, where you can instill traditions, knowledge and that cherished feeling of family togetherness.

Home for the Holidays This Year 

For example, Thanksgiving has always been a pretty big deal for mom’s side of the family. My daughter’s mother has a fairly large extended family with three great aunts and many cousins. One of the great aunts had made it a tradition, years before my daughter was born, that she would visit the rest of the family every Thanksgiving. Now, by turn, while my family isn’t really small, we also have not ever really had long standing Thanksgiving traditions. Of course I would love for my daughter to spend that holiday with me, however, in this situation, while I could easily have argued for my rights within the stipulation agreement, where it outlines we trade holidays yearly, the only real point in doing so would be to disrupt her family’s traditions and assert my own egotistical needs. Instead, when we first looked at holiday times, we decided since Thanksgiving was an important one for her family, mom would always have our daughter for Thanksgiving, and I would always have my daughter for Halloween (which happens to be one of my favorite holidays). From the time my daughter was old enough to trick or treat, until the year she graduated high school, we have had almost every Halloween together, and over that time we also established life long friend for her that joined us in our celebrations. Equally over that time, my daughter has enjoyed the richness of her mother’s traditions concerning Thanksgiving and will hopefully want to continue those into her adult life. Personally, I really look forward to a Halloween evening out with my adult daughter some year.

Over the course of my daughter’s life, there have certainly been one or two times when this has changed for various reasons (one year the great aunt was sick, and my sister in Texas asked if we could join them, so we switched it around that year), though for the most part, those holidays have become the least stressful of our planning year. My daughter came to expect Thanksgiving with mom and Halloween with dad, which also created ease for her.

Concerning the major winter and spring holiday breaks for schoolchildren, I would recommend a flexible approach that places emphasis on raising the children with the influence of both families over time. An “every other year” policy seems to be the best, at least from what I have seen.

Again, it is important to listen to your kids. Ask what they want concerning when they’ll be home for the holidays (once they are old enough to reason, of course) and do your best to accommodate.

Bottom line: When you’re going to be home for the holidays, work to plan far in advance with your ex. If you know that next spring break your side of the family is planning a reunion, don’t wait until three weeks from break to start asking your ex and your child how they feel about the vacation. Start negotiating as soon as you know.

My ex and I were pretty good at this, and we often had our daughter’s summer schedule worked out by late winter, which made long term planning much easier on us both, and gave our daughter the comfort and security of knowing where and when she would be while on school breaks far enough in advance to also make plans with other kids where she would be travelling (or staying at home).

Next time we’ll talk about handling scheduling conflicts towards fair resolution.

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Dads – Tackling the Holidays Alone

Dads – Tackling the Holidays Alone

Ahhh, the holidays. That joyous time of year where we celebrate family, friends and loved ones. But, it’s not quite that simple for Dads who are tackling the holidays alone.  We want to celebrate by feasting together, chatting and reminiscing about the past, those that came before us, those that have passed, the memories of times gone by, and pronouncements of the things that lie ahead. We do this in various dorms based on religion, region and family traditions. These things all share one common theme – family.

If you’re anything like me, this family tradition has been forever changed by my divorce and the complexity of scheduling kids mealtimes, visitations, sleepovers, alternating or sharing holiday time, all in an effort to celebrate our traditions, together. All this is further complicated by those who have custody of the kids, which in America is more often than not, the role relegated to Mom by the court system. For decades, women have been given primary custody of the kids without a thought of Dad and the home environment provided by Dad. And, again, more often than not, Mom is still in the marital home, for the benefit of the children, of course. But, this puts Dad’s at an extreme disadvantage, having to find new quarters for he and the kids,  and creating memories and traditions there within the brief periods of time that he gets to see his kids.

Despite the grim reality we face as divorced dads during the holidays, we must never forget that we are not alone. Many dads have gone before you. For those facing their first holiday alone, or even for the veterans, we at Guyvorce reached out to the huge fraternity of divorced dads through a variety of social media platforms asking for advice and lessons learned to help others adjust and celebrate the holidays in the split home environment. The feedback was incredible! We all are in this together and the overwhelming response we received is a huge testament to the growing bond between men out there. It made narrowing the list down difficult, but ahead we present the five most popular recommendations for tackling the holidays alone based on the input from dads out there just like you.

Top Five Recommendations for Tackling the Holidays Alone

1. Identify what’s important and make sure to do those when you can.

Every family has certain traditions that go with the holidays. Start your planning effort by identifying those traditions with your family. Don’t hold back at first. Once you get the ideas flowing, just let them out. When you have yours, sit with your kids and let them have at it. They may consider some things as tradition that you never knew, like spending the whole day after Thanksgiving in their pajamas! Once you have these, figure out which are the really important ones, and which were just the basic ideas. Your goal here is to get the list down to something manageable that captures the really meaningful events that define Thanksgiving for your kids and you. With this list, you’ll likely be surprised how few really depend on the actual Thursday. With your kids, you’ll all see that you can capture the meaningful bits of the holidays on another day. Sure, it won’t be the same, but it will be the ‘new normal’ going forward. Set your day and make sure you achieve the truly significant parts of your holidays with your kids!

2. Be there for your kids…24/7/365.

While your work to identify the most important traditions that help you and your kids capture the celebration even on a different day, it still doesn’t replace the actual day. For most of us as grown men, a day is simply a date on the calendar. If our birthday falls on a Tuesday, it makes perfect sense to us to celebrate it on a Friday so we can stay out later and let our heads rest on Saturday. The same logic holds true for Thanksgiving. We will have a much easier time adjusting to having turkey with our kids on a Tuesday or Friday than the kids will. Picture the world from your kids’ eyes. Birthdays and holidays are huge, and the date is significant. A five-year old cannot understand why they would have to wait to celebrate their birthday! While they may have checked the traditions with you, you can’t fix the fact that you aren’t there on the actual day. The best you can do is be available. If they call or text you, make sure you are there for them. No matter how much you worked to do something special before or after the holiday with them, they will want you on that day. You don’t get to choose the time, just be there when they need you.

3. Friends, family, & single guys

You’ve done the best you can to address the holiday needs of your children. Now it is time to think about yourself. You are still going to be the guy alone on Thanksgiving. Doug Stone captured the problem well in his song “This Empty House” when he sang:

“So many years of lovin’ all gone. It’s the first time that I’ve ever felt so alone, this empty house, is really hittin’ home tonight.”

The first holiday alone may not be the best time to stay home alone. There’s a great chance you have friends and family that will open their homes to you. While those are nice, they can also be difficult if those homes have kids running around. Another option is to think back to your single days and what you did back then. Maybe you have some single buds that you can link up with for food, football, and beer. As long as you’ve got your phone, you have your teather to your kids if and when they need you. The main point you need to grasp is that you need a way to celebrate the day as well. Whether you link up with another friend and their family, your own family, or jump back into the singles scene for the day, make sure you take the time to enjoy the day as well.

4. Work

At first, this top piece of advice offered by other divorced dads out there may seem counterintuitive on to how to celebrate the start of the holiday season. But after some thought, many may find it best to get through the alone periods of the holidays by following this popular suggestion: dive into your job. For many, the alone time is too hard, and the thought of spending time with other families will still tear at an open wound that needs more time to heal. Sometimes the best therapy can come from distraction and pouring your attention into your work. Odds are there won’t be too many distractions at the office while you are there. Think of all the administrative tasks, or items on your wish list for work that you never can find the time to get done during normal working hours. You can take advantage of the holiday time, focus on tasks that will improve your normal time at work, and really make a difference after the holidays. The harder you work at clearing your to-do list, the more distracted you will be and before you know it, the alone time will have passed.

5. Make plans for you

Yes, it is official; you are alone for the holiday. Now read that again with a more positive perspective. You are alone, meaning you have total decision authority about what to do, what times, where, and all the other parts of the holiday. Maybe it is time to throw all caution and adherence to the normal expectations and just go do something you want to do. Forget about the holiday and think about what places, activities, or events you’ve always wished you had done, but never found the time. You can seize this moment and be the master of your time. You could go big, or settle in for a 24 hour gaming and beer marathon. What is important is that it is up to you. Look into cheap weekend getaway deals to the beach, maybe drive to the ski slopes, or find the local activities you’ve wished to do, but it never fit well with your kids’ age. You have the time now, the lines at many events will be short because of the holiday, so go for it! The situation next holiday season, or the one after, may be very different. Focus on today and plan it all about what you want to do.

There’s no sugar coating your time away from the kids and tackling the holidays alone. It sucks. No matter how you work the time with your ex, the deal is tough for everyone. But it is the hand we are dealt and it is up to us to make the best of the game. The famous words of Charles Swindoll ring true as you decide how you will handle the upcoming alone time during the holidays:

“The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes.”

Our fraternity of divorced dads is filled with all kinds of men. There are many that choose to dwell in the past and ruminate about how the holidays once were. We can’t fault those members, as we all are guilty at times of the same behavior and certainly understand. But we also have the members who play the trump card we all have; our attitude. These dads are the ones that searched for ways to make today and tomorrow’s holidays bright. They have offered their ideas and we’ve presented the top ones here. As with so many things, the choice of what you do going forward and how you react is, like always, yours to make.

With these ideas in mind, thanks to all the dads out there who responded with their ideas and suggestions based on their own experiences. We are not alone. We at Guyvorce are thankful for the bond that is building between us men as we reach out and help one other through the hard times of divorce. We wish you and your families the best this holiday season and look forward to working with you in the future.

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The Holidays After A Divorce

The Holidays After A Divorce

The holidays after a divorce are never easy. Fraught with endless uncertainties, the holiday time period is disturbing and unrelenting in emotional turmoil for the newly divorced, regardless of gender. The holidays, book-ended by Thanksgiving and Christmas, or other religious holiday, are a seemingly unending challenge for who will have the kids? For how long? Will they be able to stay over? All this, creating endless worry and stress for the newly divorced as they suffer through their first holiday period without the kids and their significant other.

The Holidays After A Divorce and Without the Kids

Yeah, the first holiday after a divorce is a scary one. It’s not normal to be without the kids. They’ve always been around and there is great comfort with their presence. But, now, the divorce is over and the kids are with Mom. More importantly, they are not with you. And, it hurts. Wrestling over who will have the kids and when they’ll be over is a great struggle as we try to reestablish some degree of normality. We are resetting or establishing new traditions and new norms that hopefully we can count on and rely on for years to come. That’s what makes life bearable and predictable.

Divide and Conquer. Your first option when it comes to any holiday is to divide and conquer. And by this I mean the day itself, not your ex. What this means is that both you and your ex, and presumably your extended families, get to see the children on the day in question. While this sounds like a win-win for the adults it can be exhausting and confusing for the children, particularly if they are still quite young. Dinner times need to be negotiated. If the unwrapping of gifts are involved, schedules can be very tricky. If a tradition such as a parade or the attending of a service needs to be factored in, your entire day may be spent looking at your watch, clipboard in hand as you wave people on to the next event.

If your children are under the age of 10, the idea of divide and conquer will be even more difficult for them to understand. Offering explanations to the escalating question of “why” can be extremely difficult when family is watching. Consider the holiday from their point of view when answering why they have to leave now when they just got started playing with their cousins, or just unwrapped the coolest toy ever, or they’re just having fun and don’t want to stop. Travel time can be a hassle, weather conditions may come into play and children who fall asleep in the car will not be at their finest when they wake up in a new location, out of sorts, tired and wondering where the other parent went.

If you think you are going to outsmart your ex by taking them earlier rather than later, remember that they will likely be exhausted from the night before. Anticipation of the big day may have kept them awake later than normal. Do your little angels morph into screaming hot messes of taffeta and shirttails when told they have to leave? Do they throw caution and their little backs to the wind when told it’s time to go? The question of “why” now carries much more weight, more syllables and is likely asked at a pitch that makes cats leave the room.

If you think taking them second is the way to go, remember that there will be no naps that day. Let the full implications of that statement settle in before you make your decision. Consider also that whatever festivities you have in mind will have to follow their earlier predecessor. While your little bundles of joy may not be able to fully and adeptly make comparisons, keep your self and your own sanity in mind as you field questions that start with ‘well how come you’re not” followed by any number of innocent queries. Is this is a box you want to unwrap at Grandma’s house?

Concede. If the picture of sugarplum meltdowns sounds a bit much for you during these holidays after a divorce, there is the option to concede. Concede the holiday completely to the ex in the name of peace and tranquility for your children. Allow them a full day of relaxation and enjoyment and allow them to just be where they are. No schedule, no split day. Just presence. The trade off for conceding an entire holiday is that they really do grow up so fast. Phrases like, “No that was the one we spent with Mom, not you.” will happen. While this may be par for the course when the ex lives in another city or state, it may be very difficult to spend a holiday in the same zip code as your children and know that you won’t get to see their smiling faces. Which leads me to our third option. Dust off your tutu and get ready to declare it so.

Declare It So. The silver lining to your first set of Reverse Firsts when your children are young is that you get to make the new normal. You get to decide which traditions stay, which go and the level of enthusiasm and normalcy with which these changes are presented. I call it the Tooth Fairy Effect. Whether your child comes to you the next morning having found a nickel or a hundred dollar bill under her pillow for her lost tooth, your reaction is the same. Your reaction is that she has shown you the most exciting thing ever. And based on your reaction, she will agree. Declaring it so means that you are declaring your own market rate as it pertains to holidays. If you want to celebrate 1 day or 1 week later, then so be it. Just do it with all the enthusiasm and gratitude you can muster. And if you need to wear a tutu, so be it.

 

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5 Secrets to Cooperative Co-parenting On Holidays

5 Secrets to Cooperative Co-parenting On Holidays

The Thanksgiving holiday is now in the past, and Christmas is fast approaching. This is a tough time of year for any divorced parent who is not the primary care giver. This is especially true for divorced Dads as they are least likely to be the primary care giver. Kids naturally gravitate to spending time with their custodial parent which is with whom they spend most of their time. They view their custodial home as ‘their home’ and they don’t naturally think of Dad’s place as ‘their home’. It might not seem fair, but it’s reality.

To find more time with your kids during the holidays, you must act more cohesively than ever with your Ex. You have to co-parent on holidays to get the most from your kids and get the most for yourself. Keep in mind, this is not about you, Dad. This is about your kids and what they want and what they need.

Holidays are full of traditions. Your kids likely have traditional things that they do with Mom. Maybe they bake cookies and decorate the tree while drinking their favorite cocoa. But, what traditions have you established with your kids? What have you done to create new traditions for you and your loved ones? Time is on your side and you have time to think of new ways to connect with your kids. If possible, go out and cut down a fresh Xmas tree. Go Christmas caroling with them. If you have daughters, take them to the Nutcracker. If you have boys, take them hiking in the woods or camping in nature. There are lots of creative things you can do to establish new traditions. But it starts with you.

Co-Parenting Agreements Can Help

Some divorced families stick to rigid scheduling around holidays that have either been agreed to previously, or are court ordered. While it can ease co-parenting tensions to have clearly defined dates set far ahead of time, I also believe it is valuable to have flexibility.

After our separation, the mother of my daughter and I had a detailed support agreement to rely on when issues arose. We used that as the final say, though in most circumstances we simply communicated effectively about what our needs were, what our child’s desires were, and sought to find resolutions among our choices that would best benefit our kid.

His and Her Holidays

I recommend having at least one holiday a year that is “yours” and one holiday a year that is “hers” and work to keep those traditions in line as much as possible. I would also suggest that these holidays are not the big ones like Christmas and Easter (or Hanukkah and Pesach if you’re a Jewish family).

Making permanent co-parenting schedules for minor holidays can help to ease the tensions surrounding the major ones, and also ensures you will have the opportunity to have at least one special time of year with your kids, where you can instill traditions, knowledge and that cherished feeling of family togetherness.

Family Traditions of Her Side of the Family

Thanksgiving has always been a pretty big deal for my ex’s side of the family. My daughter’s mother has a large extended family with three great aunts and many cousins. One of the great aunts had made it a tradition, years before my daughter was born, that she would visit the rest of the family every Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, while my family isn’t small, we also don’t have long standing Thanksgiving traditions. I’d love for my daughter to spend that holiday with me and could easily have argued for my rights within the stipulation agreement, where it outlines we trade holidays yearly. Honestly, the only real point in doing so would be to disrupt my ex’s family’s traditions and assert my own egotistical needs.

Instead, when we first looked at holiday times, we decided since Thanksgiving was an important one for her family, my ex would always have our daughter for Thanksgiving, and I would always have my daughter for Halloween (which happens to be one of my favorite holidays).

Special Time With Daddy’s Girl

From the time my daughter was old enough to trick or treat, until the year she graduated high school, we have had almost every Halloween together, and over that time we also established life-long friend for her that joined us in our celebrations.

Equally over that time, my daughter has enjoyed the richness of her mother’s traditions concerning Thanksgiving and will hopefully want to continue those into her adult life. Personally, I really look forward to a Halloween evening out with my adult daughter some year.

Here’s That Flexibility Thing Again

Over the course of my daughter’s life, there have certainly been one or two times when this has changed for various reasons (one year the great aunt was sick, and my sister in Texas asked if we could join them, so we switched it around that year), though for the most part, those holidays have become the least stressful of our planning year. My daughter came to expect Thanksgiving with mom and Halloween with dad, which also created ease for her.

Co-Parenting on Holidays and School Vacations, Too!

Concerning the major winter and spring holiday breaks for schoolchildren, I would recommend a flexible approach that places emphasis on raising the children with the influence of both families over time. An “every other year” policy seems to be the best, at least from what I have experienced.

Again, it is important to listen to your kids. Ask what they want concerning holidays (once they are old enough to reason, of course) and do your best to accommodate.

Bottom line: When holidays and vacations are approaching, work to plan far in advance with your ex. If you know that next spring break your side of the family is planning a reunion, don’t wait until three weeks from break to start asking your ex and your child how they feel about the vacation. Co-parenting on holidays and vacations can be stress free if you start negotiating as soon as you know about special events.

My ex and I were pretty good at scheduling on holidays and vacations. We often had our daughter’s summer schedule worked out by late winter!

Early negotiating made long term planning much easier on us both, and gave our daughter the comfort and security of knowing where and when she would be while on school breaks. My daughter was never left hanging until the last minute, and could make advance plans with other kids that live where she would be on break.

Co-parenting Conflict Resolution

No matter how carefully you plan, no matter how good your relation with your ex is, there will be times when you have to find a resolution to a scheduling conflict.

Obviously, one of you will have to give in. Let’s not make a big deal out of it, okay?

Listen, as the years go by, the important thing is your continued presence in your child’s life, and one holiday isn’t going to make the difference. Keep that in mind as you negotiate.

By the same token, it is important to give your children routines that they are comfortable and familiar with. One of these is keeping holiday schedules intact. Though it isn’t critical to adhere too strictly, it is definitely a good idea to keep a comfortable schedule your children are familiar with when possible.

The Art of Negotiation

Giving your kids routines around the holidays (and frankly, around just about any recurring activities in their lives) provides them a sense of comfort and security.

So, let’s say you both want to spend the 4th of July taking your kids to see fireworks. What can you do?

Well, the most obvious first question is; do you already have a set routine between your ex and yourself concerning this holiday?

For the sake of argument, we are going to assume that she normally has custody on this holiday. You’re disturbing the co-parenting routine with your request. So, be certain to ask yourself how important is it that you get the kids? Do you just want to spend time with them on a date you normally don’t, or is there a compelling reason to ask your ex to shift schedules (family in town, great deal on a houseboat, special activities for the kids, etc.)

If you honestly believe the children will benefit more from time with you than from their established previous routines on this holiday, then you should proceed with careful negotiation.

I feel the first fair proposal to make your ex is to see if you and she can both spend time with the kids on the holiday. This makes a huge impact over the years, when kids can see their parents interacting without malice.

If it is already established that you and your ex will not share a holiday together, then there is no point in trying that route. Concerning the children, the real question is what will make the most sense. If you know that having the kids will best benefit them, then I suggest you do your best to discuss your position with your ex. Explain how they will benefit, and be willing to make a counter offer.

Effective Co-Parenting On Holidays Means There Has To Be Some Give And Take

Perhaps if you take them for Independence Day, your ex will take them for Labor Day weekend when you would normally have them?

When working with your ex towards finding co-parenting holiday schedules that will work for the both of you, compromise is key. (Mostly, your compromise.)

Remember, the goal is to find the best experience for your kids. Though you may have ideas of how you want your holidays, you will have to negotiate in most cases. Always try to keep the conversation focused on the resolution, not your personal wants or desires.

Again, try to keep a bigger picture in mind. Swapping holidays is really pretty common among single parents, and unless you have some type of stipulation either clearly defining each holiday or clearly stating your rights, then there is going to be room for redefining your holiday scheduling.

I have mentioned this previously, and it bears repeating: The farther ahead you can plan holidays with your kids, the easier it will be on all involved.

The farther ahead you can plan holidays with your kids, the easier it will be on all involved.

The sooner you are aware of the need to change an existing schedule, the better the chances of getting it accomplished. Use your first available opportunity to communicate with your ex what you would propose for a change, and be willing to make concessions.

Remember, anything that isn’t already defined is going to be a disruption for her, so keep that in mind as you ask. If you know you want your kids for one holiday, perhaps you can come up with ways that taking them will actually look like support of your ex. Just being willing to work with her will make a difference, for you, for her, and most importantly, for your children.

How are you dealing with the challenges of co-parenting on holidays? Tell us what works – and what doesn’t – in the comments below!

Now is the perfect time to check out Melissa Ricker’s tips on Using Google Calendar for Effective Co-parenting. You won’t want to miss Sara Gabriella’s reasons why Co-parenting Agreements Put Your Kid’s Best Interests First.

 

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Co-Parenting With Your Ex

Co-Parenting With Your Ex

The mother of my daughter hates my guts. She doesn’t just dislike me; she loathes me with a passion

And yet, we have no choice but to learn to co-parent together. To be perfectly honest, she’s not really my favorite person in the world, either. However, strange as it might seem, it is more common than we might want to think in this world that you can share your greatest love with your worst enemy.

While she and I are barely civil to one another, we have never allowed this to influence how we set ground rules for our daughter.

This fact alone has allowed us to navigate the last fifteen years of our daughter’s life with a mutual understanding and respect, while maintaining a safe distance from one another.

I am proud to say that my daughter is a sweet, charming, thoughtful and delightful young lady who graduates high school with honors next month, and her mother’s and my early decision (we separated when our daughter was less than two) to keep our personal feelings for one another out of the parenting equation apparently had good results. We didn’t have to like each other to keep teaching our child to make good decisions. In a way, we are very fortunate that we were both raised with the same general principles, social mores and taboos, though we often have very differing opinions about them. And while there are certainly grey areas and some difficult negotiations along the way, we are both coming from basically the same place; we want our child to be happy, and we want to support her growth in learning to think for herself and make choices that will serve her best throughout life.

While we worked hard at putting aside our feelings and personal biases in discussing what is best for our kid, we’re polar opposites in the way we manage our personal lives, and we both take responsibility for exposing our daughter to both the good and the bad of our own personal choices, so that she might make up her own mind.

For instance, my daughter has been raised religiously non-denominational for the most part. This is not because her mother and I don’t both have our individual beliefs; but that they are not the same beliefs, and rather than force one upon our child, we decided to just let her make her own choices and make ours available to her. Her mother is a non-practicing Catholic who still celebrates Christmas and Easter; I am a reasonably practicing Jew. (Which is to say, I observe high holidays and try to at least acknowledge Shabbat.)

The fact of our different heritage has another interesting aspect for raising our daughter. Since Catholicism is passed down patrilineally, and Judaism is passed down through matrilineally, our daughter does not belong inherently to either religion. This oddity in our religious backgrounds actually forced her mother and I to take this issue very seriously and were probably some of the longest discussions we ever had concerning her upbringing. (The other big issue for us became medication, as our daughter was diagnosed with ADHD early in her life, and it has been an area where we disagreed on appropriate treatment, which in turn forced us to have very passionate dialogues about what was important to us.)

While this could have become a really difficult part of parenting, instead it became perhaps the most important aspect for us in learning how to parent together while separate. Because this particular aspect of raising our daughter was a bridge that could not be crossed, what we had to learn early on was how to share our differences to our daughter without making the other party out to be “wrong”.

Now, in some ways, I have to admit that this particular aspect of my parenting might leave others angry or questioning. Even from members of my own faith I have experienced a small and subtle backlash in choosing not to push my personal beliefs upon my child. Still, I am fortunate that her mother shares similar views. So we choose to focus instead on things that we both agree are important. Instead of teaching about Jesus or God (or Buddha, Mohammed, etc.) we talked about sustainability, responsibility, compassion, conservation, philanthropy and other core values we mutually consider important. These are principles that are demonstrable and have proven results. We are also pretty solidly agreed on our lessons concerning work, school, play, friends, and a host of other subjects, so in the grand scheme of “what our kid needs to know”, religion really is pretty low on the totem. We feel that we can talk about religion when she brings it up.

I believe the only truly morally responsible act to take as separate parents is for both to strive to keep the welfare of the child or children the most significant part of any communication, and to strive to create harmonious outcomes (or at least ones that are fair compromises) concerning consequences and rules.

Whenever possible, you should agree on basic principles and expectations and be consistent in both homes:

  • If a behavior is not allowed at one house, for example, it shouldn’t be tolerated at the other
  • If a punishment is meted out by one parent, it should be upheld by the other
  • Curfews should be consistent, as well as what “grounding” means in your home.
  • Don’t try and out-do one another on things like allowance and tooth fairy visits – take turns or divvy them up, but always keep them equal
  • Compromise on things like healthy eating and the amount of sugar intake, have zero sugar at one house and a veritable treasure trove of gummy bears at the other won’t help anyone

While your child might seem innocent and you are confident they have been brought up well, the urge to play one parent off the other, especially when the parents hate each other and can barely communicate with one another, is just to delicious and irresistible to a child who wants something really, really bad. It becomes easy, and before you know it, they will master the art of lying and manipulating to get their own way. Don’t ever underestimate how smart they are, and don’t make the mistake of thinking they aren’t listening and seeing what is going on when you least expect it. 

Don’t Forget Another Very Important Factor

Make sure your new partners respect your wishes with your ex, and are on board with your plans in being consistent. It isn’t a competition. If you aren’t in agreement with your ex, and your new partner supports you in that decision, you can escalate very quickly to a situation that is not manageable without being in a constant state of anger and frustration, or heading back down the very expensive road of court costs.

You don’t have to like your ex, but you have to work together where the kids are concerned. After all, you made them together, right? Well, now you have the responsibility of raising your kids together…and that means getting on the same page when it comes to parenting, even if in no other aspect of your relationship. You owe it to your kids.

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