How to Share a Happy Holiday with an Ex-Partner and Your Kids

December 22, 2021 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

This article by Lisa Kanarek in The Washington Post might be useful to some readers or their clients.

How to Share a Happy Holiday with an Ex-Partner and Your Kids

For a successful get-together with a blended family, set conflicts aside, communicate ahead of time, and keep expectations clear

Morgan Havens and her best friend, Jerilyn, share a Christmas Eve tradition: After Havens tucks her children into bed, she, Jerilyn and their partners spend the evening baking cookies and wrapping presents. There’s nothing unusual about friends sharing the holiday, except for one detail: Havens used to be married to Jerilyn’s wife, and the tucked-in kids are theirs.

Havens, of Richmond Hill, Ga., and her blended family are not alone. Shared custody, especially during the holidays, often means one parent misses the tree trimming or candle lighting, and can create anxiety for all involved. One solution is having everyone under one roof for the celebration. Clinking glasses or breaking bread with a former partner isn’t for everyone. But for some, shared gatherings — if only for a few hours — can ease the season’s stress. Best of all, the kids benefit from the arrangement.

Here are some strategies to successfully bring former partners together for the holidays, from co-parenting experts and blended families who have made new traditions. One common warning they had: The first year can be challenging. But they all agree that making the effort can create meaningful childhood memories.

Put conflicts aside

Kids are adept at sensing what’s going on around them. “If we’re doing something that we think is good for our kids, but we’re white-knuckling or downing that second or third glass of chardonnay to do it, that is not wise,” says Karen Bonnell, a divorce and co-parent coach, mediator and author of “The Co-Parenting Handbook.”

Marisa G. Franco, a psychologist and friendship expert based in D.C., agrees. “This isn’t the place to talk through relationship issues,” she says. “If tension or resentment comes up between ex-spouses in the moment, take up the matter later on.”

Photo by Nicole Michalou from Pexels

Therapy can help if this will be a challenge for you and your former partner. Sarah Gundle, a clinical psychologist in New York City, reduced the likelihood of uncomfortable holiday get-togethers by seeking therapy with her partner during their split. For the past four years, her ex-partner and their daughter, now 6, have gathered for one night of Hanukkah, along with her 15-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, her former partner’s girlfriend and his mom.

Gundle has been on both ends of the co-parenting spectrum. She and her ex-husband do not co-parent, while she and her younger daughter’s father cooperatively raise their daughter. “Part of the reason we’re able to co-parent so well is that we did a lot of work during our breakup to understand and create a shared narrative,” she says. “I’ve seen it in both of my kids, and it’s better for the child when the parents can remain in some kind of positive contact.”

Recognize your new roles as coparents, not partners

“It’s important that when people end an intimate partnership, they let that come to a close and don’t think of themselves as exes anymore,” Bonnell says. “Rather than focusing on ‘That’s my ex-wife, my ex-husband, my ex-whatever,’ you want to think of that person as your co-parent — your children’s other parent.”

On Christmas morning, Laura Lopez, her fiance, and the 5-year-old daughter she shares with her former partner of 10 years will meet at her ex’s house for breakfast and to open presents with him and his wife. Last year, her ex’s wife ordered matching pajamas for the group, and they snapped a holiday photo of everyone together.

“The relationship between my daughter’s dad and I has never been so healthy,” she says from her home in Irving, Tex. “That’s because we work together better as a team apart than we ever did together.”

Check in with each other before the holiday

Greeting your former partner at the door with “Happy Hanukkah” or “Merry Christmas” shouldn’t be the first words you’ve spoken to each other during the months leading up to the gathering. Franco says that communication has to be an ongoing part of co-parenting.

“A phone call before, discussing ‘How do we want to make sure our kids have a great experience together? Where do we want to meet and who are we each bringing?’ can make a difference,” she says. “All of those are important questions.”

Along with finalizing plans for the location and food, take a few minutes to discuss gifts for the children. Bryan Johnson, a co-parent to children ages 21, 19 and 16 in Dallas, coordinates ideas with his ex-wife. They share suggestions about what their two sons and their daughter want for Christmas and split the cost of more-expensive items.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Set an intention, and limits, for the day

Ex-partners should avoid dictating to one another how the day will unfold, but it’s important to convey how each sees the day playing out. Remind yourselves that the focus should be on the children, and that there’s no requirement for former partners to be close, or for their new partners to become best friends. Katherine Woodward Thomas, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After,” suggests setting limits for how much time everyone will be together, particularly if there is still unresolved tension in the relationship.

“Maybe invite your former partner in for cookies and cocoa and a little present-opening,” Woodward Thomas says. “See if they’re willing to stay long enough for the kids to feel a sense of cohesion between the two families, so they’re not having to choose sides.”

During the past seven years, Johnson, who was married for 16 years and divorced for 10, has spent Christmas Day at the home of his ex-wife and her husband. He arrives for breakfast, their children unwrap gifts, and he leaves after a few hours. “In the beginning, it was hard to be a visitor at my children’s Christmas celebration,” he says. “It was very awkward. What it took was wiping the slate clean and trying to create a new set of expectations for the holiday.”

Lisa Correa of Springfield, N.J., and her former husband separated in 2007. Since then, they have worked to keep their holiday traditions the same as a way to ease the pain of the divorce for their two children, now in their 20s. “The reason that it’s so doable for me is it’s only a couple of hours on Christmas Day,” Correa says. “Anything longer than that, I think, would be emotionally draining not just for me, but for my husband. Probably for my ex-husband as well.”

Consider a neutral location

While some families celebrate at one of the co-parent’s homes, others are more comfortable meeting elsewhere. Pittsburgh resident Sage Herman, her new spouse, their 9-month-old daughter, her ex-partner, and their almost 8-year-old daughter meet at her parents’ house for Christmas dinner.

“It feels too tense to have my ex at my house because this is the house we bought together,” she says. “There are pictures everywhere of my new family, and it just feels too uncomfortable.”

Do something nice for your ex-spouse’s new partner

Extending an olive branch, in the form of a small gift, can make an ex-spouse’s new partner feel welcome and accepted. Don’t focus on the cost, but instead on the thought.

“Look them in the eye when they come into your home and say, ‘Thank you for coming and being with us,’” Woodward Thomas says. “It’s important for people to know that you can have a friendly and supportive family post-divorce. You have to create that feeling of affinity one generous gesture at a time.”

Relationships vary, of course, butwhen co-parents realize it takes less effort to get along during the holidays than to force their children to engage in a tug of war, everyone benefits. Seeing the joy in a child’s face as they scan the room and watch their parents enjoying their time together can make the planning and willingness to adapt worth the effort.

“The dynamic is that we all cooperate and communicate,” Laura Lopez says. “We always have the end goal of helping our daughter be happy, safe and healthy. It truly does feel like a family.”

Source: How to Share a Happy Holiday with an Ex-Partner and Your Kids (The Washington Post, December 6, 2021).

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How to Share a Happy Holiday with an Ex-Partner and Your Kids was last modified: December 19th, 2021 by K.O. Herston

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