As parents across the U.S. prepare to celebrate the holidays, we often feel a growing sense of stress due to mounting family responsibilities, increased credit card debt, unpredictable weather, overindulgent eating, unreasonable expectations, excessive commitments and other social pressures. But the bottom line is that a big part of Christmas focuses upon our children.
How we handle this season offers parents a chance to work together to benefit and strengthen our relationship and allow our children to understand and enjoy these important celebrations calmly and peacefully.
As parents, we typically want what is best for our kids. To achieve this, it is imperative that parents determine their own personalized role in sharing parenting responsibilities. For some families, especially couples who have split up, co-parenting is the best option. Co-parenting is a process where two parents work together to raise their children, whether they live in one household or two separate homes and the children go between the two.
Almost all parents see themselves as having the basic skills needed to raise their children to grow up to become healthy adults. What do you think are your four or five best skills as a parent? What are the best developed parenting skills of the other parent? How are they expressed to our children?
This article will offer some tips for effective co-parenting.
Practice positive communication: We all know how important healthy communication is for children and parents to work together. Establish some rules in your home, or homes for how, when, where and what information to share regarding school, friends, homework, discipline issues, faith practices chores and other important topics. Model being a respectful listener to each other. Avoid arguing in front of the children. Use language that helps children sort out loyalty binds. Do not send messages to the other parent through your children. Find another way.
Establish and maintain clear boundaries: Both parents should discuss what rules and consequences they want to enforce between each other and between parent and child. Avoid undermining or criticizing the other parent. Set clear limits when disciplining your children. Be consistent. Avoid comparisons to the other parent. Honor your promises to the other parent and to your children.
An example: if your 13-year-old is grounded and wants to attend a Christmas party at a school friend’s house, the child cannot request going to other parent’s home to avoid these consequences. That’s co-parenting 101
Distinguish between adult and child issues: Keep adult concerns and issues, such as financial concerns, new relationships, and work problems out of parent-child conversations. If the parent is dealing with grief and loss issues, seek help from other healthy adults. Let children be children.
Deal with stress openly: Keep things in perspective. As families prepare for this holiday season, members will experience stress in different forms. One way to address stress is to help children distinguish between bad stress, called distress and good stress, called eustress. All stress is not necessarily bad. Help children recognize that some stressors may be exciting or fun. For example, good stress is wondering what gift I might give to another or will receive from a family member. Some stresses may be neutral, neither good nor bad stress. And then discuss how to deal with those that are distressful. One effective method is to identify our healthy coping skills. How do you cope with big problems? How do you react to these in front of your children? How can your spouse or ex-spouse help?
Be realistic in expectations: Set clear expectations for gifts, daily schedules, family traditions and holiday activities. If the children are traveling between two households, allow a time for the transition. The adjustment process evolves over time. Be certain that household tasks and homework expectations are age appropriate, especially during exciting times over the holidays. Talk to the children about their own sense of who they are and what they can handle.
Maintain the family’s daily routines: Children benefit from consistency and security during special times like the holidays. Try to follow those at home, or in both homes, if possible. Routines around mealtimes, homework, household rules, bedtime routines, chores, friends, school events, religious and spiritual activities, cultural celebrations, discipline styles and extended family expectations are all concerns important to consider. But not all at once. Go easy on yourself this month.
As a responsible parent, we are continually making choices for ourselves and our family. It is important that we make wise choices. Choosing to be continuously involved in our family’s life is critically important for our children to grow up to form a healthy and safe family themselves. So, choose wisely and unselfishly.
One choice we may focus upon is vision. What is our vision for our children and their future? What do we hope for and how do we help them achieve this? Vision brings meaning and direction to our life. You can shape this vision to truly make a difference in the lives of our children.
And finally, take care of yourself. What can you realistically cut back on: eating, cooking, videogames, TV, chauffeuring everyone around, excessive family commitments, cleaning, inviting extended family to visit or time on social media?
Your homework: Develop a reasonable equitable plan to work together as parents to help make this Christmas a celebration of the true reason for the season.
NAFFA's Outreach Coordinator