The long summer holidays are about to start in England & Wales. Even in an undivided family, holidays can cause headaches over juggling childcare, work, breaks to routine, trips away. When you are trying to organise a separated family’s holiday time, it can be stressful and emotions can run high. Here are my top 4 tips for successful co-parenting over the holidays:
Keep your long-term vision in the front of your mind
In my recent blog [Tips for co-parenting], I talked about having a shared vision for co-parenting. This shared vision can be powerful now as you navigate plans for the holidays. Keep your vision in mind as you negotiate your summer plans to help you focus on the long-term gains of the style of co-parenting that you have committed to. If this is the first time you’ve had to negotiate holiday times, remember there will be other holiday periods in the future, and what you do now will set the tone for the years to come. How do you want to feel when you look back in 5 years’ time and you recall what you did and said?
Take a helicopter view
Sometimes when emotions are running high, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. If you’re caught in a fight over holiday times or there is an issue that is causing a problem, try this exercise and see what comes up for you. I suggest you read it through from start to finish before you start or ask a friend or your coach to go through it with you.
First bring the issue to mind and summarise it in just a couple of sentences.
• What is your perspective? How do you feel? What do you want to achieve? What is important to you?
Stand up and shake your body. Move into a different chair, or a different spot in the room.
• Imagine you are your ex. Really imagine being them, with their values, experiences and views. What is your perspective? How do you feel? What do you want to achieve? What is important to you?
Stand up again and shake your body. Move again into a different chair or spot in the room.
• Imagine now that you are your child. Really feel into being them. What do they want? How do they feel?
Stand up again and shake your body.
• Now imagine you are watching from a helicopter hovering overhead. You can clearly see and hear everything that you, your ex and your children have just said about how they feel. What do you notice?
Once you have stepped out of the helicopter, take a moment to take in all this information. How has your perspective shifted? What new insights have you gained?
How could you use your new insights and perspective as you discuss your plans with your ex?
Focus on what you CAN do, not what you can’t
Sometimes, when your emotions get in the way, it can feel challenging to have a calm and rational discussion about the holidays. Perhaps this will be the first time you have spent longer than a few nights away from your children, or maybe you feel resentful about the time you are not spending with them. Or perhaps you dread the summer holidays every year as you don’t enjoy the time alone and you feel lost.
One way to turn down the temperature on those emotions is to focus on what you CAN do and CAN have, rather than on what you can’t. Take back your power over your time and your feelings.
Ask yourself questions like:
• What can I do in that time that I couldn’t do before?
• What have I always wanted to do and never had the time?
• Who do I know who handles this well? What can I learn from them?
• Who can I arrange to meet up with to have some childfree time?
• What do I love to do and enjoy? When could I do more of that?
Be open to opportunities. When you shift your focus onto what you can do instead of what you can’t, you can change how you feel about the time you have away from the children, and this will impact your discussions with your ex.
Take the lead
You could also use these sorts of questions with your children to plan some fun and exciting things to do together over the holidays. Make the time you do have count. Perhaps you could create a holiday bucket list of things you’d like to do or try over the holidays. Choose two or three to commit to and plan them into your schedule. When you do them, take lots of photos and create a new memory board for your house of all the things you have enjoyed doing together.
Your children will take their cue from you. If you are stressed and negative, they will be too. If you are angry and resentful, they are likely to feel conflicted and anxious. If you look for opportunities to explore and try new things, they will too. If you focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t, so will they.
When you show them that you can agree a schedule with their other parent, and you can also plan some fun times in with them, you give your children a fabulous model to follow, that they will remember for years to come
Claire Macklin – part of the Parenting Community team