Holidays are a challenge for any family. Running your holidays out of two households is even more complex. Co-parenting in the pandemic makes this even more complicated. Agreeing on what your intention is for the holidays, what is the experience you want the participants to have, and what is the purpose of the holiday, is the key to any holiday planning scenario. Want to reduce COVID related stress to your children? Plan your holidays.
Holidays are an opportunity to teach values and principles. They are a chance to relax and be yourself. Theta re a time to share feelings and emotions. Oh yes, and a chance to share gifts and eat of course! Traditions like “holidays” are how we communicate to our children what we value most. By having an event that we repeat regularly, we are communicating to our children that there is value in this event, that it represents something important to us.
From that perspective, getting on the same page about what the holiday represents to the difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting (parallel parenting is when there are few if any shared values and/or plans between parents). If you’re having trouble with agreement, you may want to look for tools to help you avoid pitfalls and focus on commonalitites.
Setting an intention means what is the feeling you want to have? Co-parents often want to minimize communication to the bare m minimum for functionalities sake. At the same time, without a clear roadmap, it becomes harder and harder to end up in the same place in terms of the experience that you want the children to have. Make no mistake, putting the children first is the key here! Start out with the feeling that you want to have and particularly that you both want your children to have.
You both want your children to feel loved and cared for. Co-parenting in the pandemic requires this in fact! You share a desire for your children to feel safe. There is a shared vision that the children will experience you both as being on the same page as much as possible, reducing the possibility of their being able to split you and play you against one another down the line. Firm boundaries make children feel safe!
What is the experience that you want to have with your children? What are the qualities of it? To a large extent, this will be set by the values and principles that you want to teach them. You want them to feel safe, you want them to feel cared for. For there to be an atmosphere of mutual respect. That everyone is free to be themselves (without undue stress to anyone else). In considering in advance the experience that you want to have as a family in two households, you set the stage for communicating clear principles and values.
Clarity on the principles and values that you want your children to learn will help you set the tone for intention setting and experience defining. Obvious values form the current holidays regardless of whether you are from a faith-based home, agnostic, or atheist are sharing, giving, abundance, hope, confidence, family, the value of goal setting, etc. If you share a belief system then incorporating those beliefs becomes key.
The brilliance of Kwanzaa is the way that values were incorporated into its structure. Kwanzaa values thrift and so gift-giving starts on December 26th when most post-Christmas sales are in play for example. It involves building principles from African culture into each day of Kwanzaa to anchorage African Americans to get in touch with their roots.
You can structure your holidays to honor principles as well. A family I worked with cut-up Christmas into Christmas eve in one home and Christmas Day in the other. You might think that the Christmas Eve home got a raw deal. In fact, after years of practicing this tradition, the kids were absolutely unwilling to give it up. They value Christmas Eve family time and gift-giving at least as much as Christmas Day. Whatever principles you want to teach, articulate them, and plan them into your experience and the day and time will become less relevant.
Creating meaning is something we do unconsciously and intentionally. When co-parenting in the pandemic we want to find as many ways as possible to communicate values and principles. So why not be intentional about it? Setting the intention, experience, values, and experience that you want your children to have is pretty much a one-time experience. Once you clear about who, what, where, when, and how, you won’t need to have that conversation again except perhaps for occasional tweaks. Invest some time now, cut it up into two or three meetings, and set the tone for a successful holiday experience.