Are you already dreading holiday scheduling with your Ex?
Fall has officially arrived and that means the holiday season is just around the corner. Those of us living in stepfamily dynamics often dread this time of year simply because …well, it just isn't simple for us!
I recently asked my 23 year old daughter this: What's one good thing about living in blended family dynamics? She promptly replied: "You get to celebrate two of everything through the holidays"!
It was interesting to hear that her recollection of the holiday season was positive, because I have some memories of my own that starkly contrast anything positive.
Managing and negotiating holiday plans and schedules with an Ex is often a complex process filled with stress & frustration (the word 'headache' comes to mind).
And it can be a challenging season for kids too — parental-allegiances could get triggered and kids may end up feeling disappointed when the schedule doesn't seem to favor them. My daughter has experienced both of these painful situations, on more than one occasion.
Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions - this is tough stuff. But it's wise to prepare ourselves and approach the holidays with a proactive focus. Here are three things you can focus on NOW to help minimize stress for everyone this holiday season:
1. Plan Ahead
Resist the urge to procrastinate scheduling issues. If you're like me, you'll put off this dreaded task as long as possible, especially if you've been met with hostility and resistance in the past.
Nonetheless, the sooner the better! Start the planning process now to minimize stress and pressure. By being proactive, you'll be able to relax and enjoy yourself more leading into the holiday season — once scheduling issues are out of the way.
Kids who move between two homes need as much predictability as possible. Once the plans have been finalized between the adults, let the kids know what they can expect. Then, do your best to avoid unnecessary or last minute changes. Kids feel most secure when plans are predictable and uninterrupted. Planning ahead will help them to relax too!
2. Practice the 'Golden Rule'
If your Ex is reasonable and able to peacefully negotiate holiday schedules, that's wonderful! You've got something extra to be grateful for on Thanksgiving!
But if that's not your situation, you'll need to strategically do what you can to promote a cooperative working relationship — especially going into the holidays when tensions are often high.
The 'Golden Rule' is an effective and practical way to do this (not easy, but impactful). First, think about how you would like to be treated by your Ex. You'd probably prefer that scheduling issues are handled in a calm, professional manner - with respect, courtesy and mutual compromise. You likely want to set a healthy example for your kids by resolving issues in a peaceful and cooperative way.
Take some time to think about how you really want to be treated when scheduling negotiations take place.
If you've identified how you want to be treated by your Ex, you've just discovered how you need to be consistently treating them (I know…gulp). The real challenge to truly living out 'The Golden Rule' is that you must hold yourself accountable for your own behavior — despite what others choose to do.
It's very true that we don't have the power to control how the other home operates or behaves. However, we can powerfully influence our co-parenting relationship by fostering cooperation and peace. This can be done by choosing to take the high road and really living out the 'Golden Rule'.
If you have a difficult Ex, you still need to do your best to minimize pressure and animosity as much as possible . Who knows…this strategy might just pave the way for them to willingly compromise and consent to your schedule recommendations. :-)
3. Manage Disappointments
You'll need to recognize and accept that there are going to be scheduling disappointments regardless of your best efforts. You must keep your expectations realistic. Most likely you aren't going to get everything you want.
How you'll manage and process disappointments — yours and the kid's — is something you need to think about and plan for now if you want to fully engage and enjoy the season.
Kids living in these dynamics will inevitably miss out on some fun activities in both homes and may feel left out. As a parent, you might find yourself hurting when your kids are absent from certain holiday events due to scheduling conflicts.
Here are a few things you can do to manage disappointments in a healthy way:
- Acknowledge your child's feelings and listen with empathy to their perspective. But don't go into 'fix-it' mode — you probably can't fix the situation anyway. Try 'Emotion Coaching' techniques to help kids process through their disappointments.
- Abstain from placing blame or badmouthing the other home in front of the kids.
- Avoid getting stuck in negativity, bitterness or anger. Give yourself permission to grieve and process through your own emotions with a trusted friend or counselor (not the kids).
- Accept that the circumstances are difficult and disappointing. But do what you can to move forward with realistic expectations and a positive mind set.
Choose to Enjoy!
Planning your family's desired holiday schedule while respecting and compromising with the other home is challenging. But you can make meaningful, imperfect progress by staying focused on the right things.
Be proactive and start the planning process now. Choose to focus on peaceful cooperation by practicing the 'Golden Rule'. Start thinking about how you can effectively manage those unavoidable disappointments.
Don't allow stress, frustration and disappointment to rob your family's joy this season. Choose to enjoy each holiday and be thankful for every celebration you have together!
QUESTION: What's one step you can take today to plan for your upcoming holiday season? Leave a comment below...