Co-parenting at the Holidays

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Most single parents say that the holidays are bittersweet, especially when trying to co-parent with a difficult former spouse or coordinate scheduling with former in-laws. Many report feeling lonely, depressed or angry during this time. Yet they want the holidays to be memorable and joyful for their children. Keep these four tips in mind to promote the peace that's supposed to define the season.

Plan early

If you approach the holidays with a haphazard, last-minute attitude, you're likely to get frustrated, especially if aligning plans with the other parent. Settle ahead on holiday travel with extended family. This also ensures you'll be able to make appropriate plans for yourself while your children are busy with the other side of the family – which helps you to minimize feelings of loneliness and depression.

Let comfort be your guide

Whether you accept your ex-mother-in-law's invite to dinner is really is a matter of comfort. If you don't feel comfortable, chances are everyone else will pick up on that. If you know your ex-brother-in-law dislikes you and is likely to be glaring at you across the dinner table, how might that affect all parties? Will the kids worry that you and their other parent will get into a fight? If this is the case, respectfully decline by saying you don't want to make others uncomfortable with your presence, including the kids, and that they'll have a turn to be with the kids another time. Children don't need their parents to pretend around the holidays; they just need permission to love, appreciate and enjoy being with whatever family members they spend time with.

Start new rituals

Maybe your ex-husband hated raisin pie, so you never made it. This is a perfect opportunity to resurrect family traditions from your past or begin new ones. Perhaps research how some of your ancestors celebrated certain holidays – and then adopt some of those rituals. It'll help you connect to your heritage and be a great history lesson for your children. Or think about what you'd like to teach your kids about being thankful, peaceful, giving, etc. and develop rituals that illuminate these values. For instance, make cookies to take to a children's home or shelter. Kids will remember the simplest of traditions and look forward to them every year if parents make them a priority and follow through consistently.

Forget about the Joneses

One of the worst tragedies of the holiday season is when divorced or single parents feel they must "buy" their kids' love. Chances are it'll create a sense of entitlement, rather than the selfless values we like to associate with the season. And if you go into debt to provide what you think your kids need during this time, you're setting yourself up for post-holiday anxiety and depression, which ultimately will affect your parenting. Find ways to make the holidays meaningful without a lot of cash outlay. Odds are you'll discover the best gifts really are those that have little monetary value, but come straight from the heart.

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