Special occasions like birthdays can pose many difficulties for divorced families. Scheduling issues, new significant others, painful memories and arguments about gifts can all cause tension. Here are some ways to cope:
Involve the kids in new traditions
Your kids might already feel stress due to new circumstances, and no child wants to feel pressure to choose one parent over the other. Reassure your children that although some traditions will change, it may be a fun opportunity to start new ones as well. Ask them for ideas so they feel involved in the changes that are taking place in their lives.
Plan in advance
While most parenting plans include set schedules for holiday timesharing exchanges, families that don’t already have a parenting plan in place will want to nail down the details about any special occasions, including pickup times and locations. Other unanticipated special occasions, such as a retirement party for a favorite aunt or a family member’s graduation, may pop up. It is important to agree on the schedule change well in advance of the actual event. Nothing ever runs as smoothly as planned, but planning will reduce the stress and help maintain the joy in the occasion.
Don’t one-up each other
Discuss a general budget for presents with your ex. Adhere to the plan and don’t try to be the favorite by buying more elaborate gifts than the other parent. Also, don’t purchase gifts that do not coincide with your co-parenting plan, like a violent video game that your ex disagrees with.
Communication is key
If plans do not go as expected, communicate all changes as soon as possible with the other parent. If the toasts run a little long at the 50th anniversary party of your kids’ grandparents, be flexible. If you’re the one who’s late dropping off the kids, call your ex with as much notice as possible. Create a conflict-free zone for your children and do not put them in the middle of your personal issues or parenting decisions. As the adults, you must find a way to work things out. You may consider working with a parenting coordinator to help you and your ex resolve some more highly disputed parenting issues.
Use your support system
Reach out to your support system to keep up your spirits up. Changing family traditions can be hard. Obtain counseling services if you feel depressed. It is important to take care of yourself, physically, emotionally and mentally. If you find yourself breaking down, make sure to pencil some time in your busy schedule to care for yourself. Don’t rule out the idea of reaching out to your ex to discuss some of the struggles you may be experiencing on your end. It is very possible they are feeling the same way.