Co-parenting at Christmas: What your children really want you to know

Christmas and birthdays are the most important days in a child’s calendar. When you are little, a rotation around the sun takes ‘like’ FOREVER! Just ask any 5-year-old. You’re a parent. I’m sure this isn’t news to you.

Many families have an agreement for alternating years with each parent for Christmas Day. For those who have families in country areas or other cities, this allows you to travel if you need. For other separated couples who haven’t managed to put aside their differences, alternating Christmas is just the way it is. It is widely viewed as the fairest way to manage Christmas. At least, that’s the parents’ view.

For children of separated parents, this can be a very hard day. They are missing one of the two people they love most in the world. Half of what makes them whole is absent. It’s grief they can’t yet define.

Even though they are happy in moments throughout the day, their mind wanders frequently to what the other parent is doing. Here is some of what they want you to know.

I wonder if my other parent is okay.

I wonder who they are with.

Are they having fun?

What if they are alone?

Because even a child knows being alone on Christmas would be ‘just the worst thing ever’.

For these children, a big piece of what is most precious to them is missing on Christmas Day.

What they really want you to know is

Even though today is really fun with you, I also miss them too.

I love you both and it makes me sad to not see them.

I wish that I could see them today too.

If I am acting out, it’s because I don’t have the words I need to express myself. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, or them. It means I am sad inside.

In most cases, there are ways you can include the other parent at Christmas so your children truly have the best possible day.

Share the day

Even if you can only arrange an hour, please share the day with the other parent. There is nothing more heartbreaking than knowing someone you love is nearby but you can’t speak to them. Let them spend time together so they can exchange presents and be a part of each others happiness. No matter your past disagreements, Christmas is about the kids and this will mean the world to them.

Buy a present for the other parent

Take your child shopping to buy a thoughtful present for their other parent. It matters to them that you are resilient enough to put your differences aside. Help them wrap it and make it beautiful and special.

Include them in the day

If you are a distance away, you can still include the other parent. Facilitate a FaceTime call – or even a couple of times in the day. Ask your child if they would like to save some storable food or treats for their other parent so when they do see them they will be able to share some of those memories.

Remember your child’s extended family

Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousin’s all make up an important part of your child’s happiness. Facilitate a call with them so they can say Merry Christmas to them too.

These are little gestures which go a long way to your child having ‘the best Christmas ever’.

And we all want that for our children.

Make this a truly merry and memorable Christmas.

For help with parenting after separation please see the parenting course website or contact Jasmin

The Struggle of Parallel Parenting

The struggle of parallel parenting is real! Parallel parenting is the term given to a style of parenting that is adopted by some parents, most frequently when there is a high level of conflict and a low level of communication. What it means in practical terms is that each of you will parent differently.

VERY differently.

When we talk about this struggle it does not necessarily apply to all. For many families, this is the best approach for the least amount of conflict and it can work extremely well. However, for some, it presents frequent challenges.

There may be one set of rules in your house, and another in the other parents home. While it would be conveniently easy to say what goes on there is none of your business, it’s also quite difficult to accept this when you feel the children aren’t being cared for as you’d wish.

There is a saying that’s appropriate here and it always comes to mind for me when helping parents through these frustrations.

Your level of happiness is determined by the difference between your expectations and reality

Having an expectation that things are going to change can be fraught with disappointment. I’m not suggesting you lower your standards or those you wish for your children, but sometimes it’s beneficial to take stock of what’s within your power and what’s not. Then work out what, or how, you might be able to influence a different outcome, and let go of everything else.

The most common issues arising for those who parallel parent are:

  • Child bedtimes or other routines.
  • Activities, or lack of
  • Attention to homework or after school activities.
  • Decisions affecting the children made without consultation.

Parallel parenting can be a challenge for one, if not both of you. When conflict is high there is a tendency for at least one parent to be quite opposed to any suggestion or routine which is adopted in the other home.

But all is not lost. There are some simple steps you can apply that will help make this path smoother.

Minimise the opportunities for conflict

This may be through minimising time spent in each others company, especially at handovers or when the children are present. It does not have to mean eliminating it altogether unless you feel that is absolutely necessary. It is helpful for the children to see you together at times, and being courteous to each other in the presence – if that is at all possible. If it’s not possible, keep contact minimal and courteous.

Communication Skills

Communication Book

A common tool is for the parents to use a handover book to communicate important things about the children. This may be about changes in pick up, school uniforms, planned holidays or other occasions.

Try a communication app

There are many parent communication apps on the market today. In some cases, you can employ the services for a third-party mediator to monitor your communication or to call upon if you need help.

Our Family Wizard and Parenting Apart two common applications you might wish to try. Otherwise, try google for parenting apps.

Choosing your battles

This is quite a big subject however with every conflict if you consider a few key questions it can help to prioritise where this sits in the hierarchy of matters to focus on.

  1. What will the children lose or benefit from in relation to resolving this conflict?
  2. How important is it to resolve this right now?
  3. Are my assumptions or thoughts about this outcome (the outcome you want) legitimate?
  4. What will be the follow-on impact of pursuing this?
  5. How successful is my approach likely to be?
  6. Is there another way to approach this?
  7. Is this something I can let slide?

Parallel parenting can be hard, however, it is manageable if you both can remain child-focused. Think of it as solving a puzzle. How can I piece this together so it makes more sense and is less frustrating?

5 Good Reasons To Be Quiet In Conflict

Being quiet in conflict is a challenge but if you master this art in communication you may learn a very valuable tool

Getting involved in an argument is rarely beneficial. However, sometimes there are matters which need to be discussed in which emotions become elevated. The natural position for most people is to push back against those they are opposed to. I certainly get the sentiment, however here’s an alternative that you might like to employ.

The following is an adaptation from a blog I wrote several years ago. It still rings true today.

#1  — You can’t listen while you’re talking

Listening is so much more than hearing words. It’s an observation of intent, mannerisms, inflection and emotion that are all being bought into the conversation. Learning through observation is a far better tool that having to prove your point of view.

#2 — You may not be right

Unimaginable, I know but both of you can’t be right. Perhaps you can leave room for the fact that maybe it’s not you this time.  And if you are right, then it will prove itself in time so be patient. A point about avoiding conflict that I would like to make here is that even if you are right, so what? Apart from ego, does it really help you to prove you are right? 

#3 — You can learn a lot from listening

Giving someone space to speak can be really powerful for both of you to avoid conflict.  You can both learn from this experience and I often find that people can resolve their own issues, just by being heard. And there is a gift here for you if you watch for it, but you may get a sense of what it is that is frustrating them if you give them space.  It’s better to understand than need to be understood.

#4 — You will create space for compassion

This one is a favorite of mine.  If you can be silent enough to hear someone else’s story and to view the world through their eyes you will start to see that their path and their experiences were different to yours. You don’t have to agree with their version but compassion opens the door to understanding.

#5 — It gives you time to think instead of react

Really, if you can start to handle this one your communication problems will be a thing of the past, and all because you were quiet for a while.  Often we will retort with a comment that we might later regret or realise not to be based on anything other than our own hurt. So we project our own pain instead of hearing someone else’s.  If we allow time to absorb what the other has said and then come up with a rational response it will make things way smoother for both of you.

The art of being quiet in conflict is communication skills, but it’s rooted in a willingness to resolve the issue in front of you. Always keep the children in focus. Their love for you both is greater than any argument.

Need help? Try our Parenting After Separation courses here