From me, to you 😉
If you’re in the throes of separating then chances are you don’t have a formal parenting agreement worked out yet. That means it’s time for you and your STBX to have some discussions about the upcoming winter break and the holidays, and what they mean for your parenting time.
With school-breaks, specific holidays and family traditions, this can get complicated. It helps to get a blank calendar for December and January and use different colors for you and your STBX. Print out a couple of copies because I guarantee you’ll want to make changes before you come up with a final version.
Start With The Key Days
A good place to begin is to identify the days that are particularly meaningful to you, such as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Are there other days that are more meaningful to your STBX? This often happens because of a different faith or extended family traditions. How could you share these? Map out a proposal and be as specific as possible including where the children will sleep and who will be picking up and dropping off,at what time. It might look this, for example:
Christmas Eve with Mom. Christmas Eve begins at 9 p.m. on December 23 and ends at 9 p.m. on December 24.
Christmas Day with Dad. Christmas Day begins at 9 p.m. on December 24 and ends at 9 p.m. on December 25. Dad will pick up from Mom’s at the beginning of his parenting time.
Don’t worry about trying to make the language look like a legal agreement. Write it in plain English that you and your STBX can understand.
Look At The Bigger Picture
With school-aged children, now look at when their winter break starts and finishes. How could you and your STBX share this time?
Do either of you want to travel to visit with extended family?
What do your children have going on? Any camps or sports activities?
How can you work your schedule to accommodate these plans. Even if you agree to share the break equally, it’s rarely going to be as simply as splitting it into two with you taking the first seven nights and your STBX taking the others. The key dates you’ve identified aren’t going to fall neatly in the middle and nor will the winter break fall conveniently at a normal changeover in any regular parenting schedule you’ve already worked out. You will have to do some juggling.
Put Yourself In Your Child’s Shoes
How will your children feel about the schedule? Does it seem like too much back and forth? Too rushed? Too hectic?
Parenting plans are often driven by the number of overnights because the overnights often figure into the calculation for child support. It’s unfortunate. In my opinion, this often means kids are shuttling back and forth too frequently or more than they want. They get exhausted and drained and it becomes more about the parents and money, and less about the children.
If you took the child support out of the equation, what schedule would work best for your child? Could you have parenting time during the day and then return them to your STBX to stay overnight or vice versa? This might work well if you’re in temporary accommodation and there isn’t a bedroom for your child. It would work well for a child who doesn’t handle change well.
Overnights don’t equate to being an actively involved parent.
Avoid the trap of thinking that all your kids have to have the same schedule. Younger kids will need to have shorter time away from each parent so more frequent exchanges and possibly no overnights. Older kids are better able to cope with longer stays. The more flexible you can be, the better it will be for your kids.
This Is A Test Run
Try approaching this as a test run. Come January when the kids are back in school, be critical of the schedule – what worked well, what didn’t, what was ambiguous and what resulted in disagreement. Even more important, what did you children like, what didn’t they like. Ask them for their opinion.
You’ll be able to take this experience and incorporate it into your formal parenting plan. You’ll also be able to use this experience to help you construct the rest of your parenting plan.
You know your family best and that means you and your STBX are the best people to figure out your parenting time.
I imagine you have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving this year, yes?
It seems to me that most of the news coverage and TV shows have a heavy emphasis on the positives – the trouble-free family get-togethers, gratitude, smiles, laughter, fun, and love. That can be a far cry from reality and especially if you’re in the early stages of divorce. Thanksgiving and divorce really don’t go very well together.
It might be tempting to put on a brave face, to keep going with the traditions you and your STBX have created, and to make like nothing has changed.
Well, everything IS changing and rather than resisting that I’d like to urge you to accept it.
What do your plans for the day look like?
As you think about these, is there an activity you’re not crazy about? Something that’s making you feel tense or anxious, giving you a knot in your stomach?
What is it about the activity that is making you feel like this?
Is there a way to modify the activity so you feel more comfortable?
What would happen if you decided not to do this at all?
What else could you do to take care of yourself?
I’m not suggesting you should skip Thanksgiving. Far from it. I’m a big believer in celebrations and festivities. They are part of what makes a family and how you modify your traditions is a key to making your rearranged family uniquely yours. You can start doing that right now …
P.S. What if I asked you if you were thankful for your STBX? Could you join me in my Thanksgiving challenge?
One reason you may be staying in your marriage even though you know it’s deeply trouble is that you can’t imagine having the conversation with your spouse. You can’t picture yourself saying, “I want a divorce.’ It’s just too difficult. Even the thought of it turns your stomach. And then you’d have to tell your parents AND your children!
I just came across this talk by Ash Beckham at TEDxBoulder and I found it really helpful.
Ash is talking about coming out of the closet but the point she makes is that a closet is simply a hard conversation. No one hard conversation is harder than another or harder for one person than another. They’re simply hard. And telling your spouse you want a divorce is a hard conversation.
Ash says that not having that hard conversation is like holding a grenade because you’re creating chronic stress for yourself and that has very real health consequences. I believe that – many of my interviewees have shared how their chronic health conditions significantly improved after divorce.
So what are Ash’s three rules for hard conversations?
- Be authentic – I do believe that being truthful and open about your feelings opens the door for treating the person you once loved with dignity and respect. And that can help set the stage for a less acrimonious divorce.
- Be direct – If you know in your heart of hearts your relationship is over, then don’t agree to marriage counselling because you think it might make it easier on your spouse. You’ll just be going through the motions and that will make the breakup even harder.
- Be unapologetic – this doesn’t mean not apologizing for the hurt, the lost dreams but rather do not apologize for speaking your truth.
I hope you’ll take ten minutes to watch Ash’s presentation. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
P.S. There’s a module on Telling Your Spouse in the My Divorce Pal coaching program.