Managing Expectations Over the Holidays
Christmas is a magical time of the year. The lights, the music, over-crowded shopping malls, school Christmas concerts, food, the mystery of Santa, and the joy of little faces on Christmas morning. The Holiday season evokes powerful emotions that can lead to significant disappointment, anxiety, and conflict between co-parents.
I often speak about something I call a “co-parenting contract.” These are the unwritten, unspoken expectations that we all have of our co-parent (this contract exists in some form in every relationship we have). The contract constantly evolves as circumstances change; unfortunately, the only way to truly know the terms of your co-parenting contract is for your co-parent to violate your expectations. The powerful emotions of the Holiday’s have the ability to surface the unwritten and unspoken expectations of our contract; because the emotions surrounding the Holiday’s can be so strong, it makes resolving the terms of our contract much more volatile than are other issues that arise during the year.
There are a few things that you can do to clarify your expectations with your co-parent:
- Review your parenting plan. When you drafted your parenting plan you and your co-parent likely defined your expectations around the Christmas season and reached certain agreements as to how you will work together. When you are unable to reach an agreement with your co-parent, you may not like what it has to say, but your parenting plan is your fall back. If you don’t have a parenting plan you may want to set up a meeting at your local Fairway office to discuss how to set up a parenting plan. If your co-parent has approached you about doing something different than what is described in the plan, listen to them and be prepared to be flexible; remember, you may need your co-parent to be flexible at a later date.
- After you have reviewed your parenting plan find a quiet place and identify a few priorities and clarify your own expectations. Write down your specific wishes and more importantly clarify, to yourself, why this is important to you.
- Take a deep breath and clarify your expectations with your co-parent. Be assertive, but not aggressive – you are not presenting a demand but engaging in conversation. Give your co-parent a heads up about what you want to discuss and give them the time to get their head wrapped around your request. Don’t just identify what you want but why it’s important to you.
- Be prepared to listen with the intent of understanding. When your co-parent is sharing, he/she will provide you with clues into their unwritten, unspoken expectations regarding yourself and Christmas. Ask lots of questions and try your best to understand their point-of-view. By understanding the other person’s perspective it allows us to find mutually satisfying solutions to complicated problems.
- Take a few moments and write down what you and your co-parent have agreed to. It doesn’t need to be anything formal, just a reminder as to what you’ve said. Send a copy of your notes over to your co-parent and invite any feedback. You don’t want to be re-hashing your conflict on December 25 when picking up your kids for Christmas dinner.
Finally, keep in mind that your co-parent likely wants the same thing you do: a magical and Happy Holidays.