Parents want the holidays to be happy for their children. Unfortunately, if there is conflict about schedules and details, co-parents wind up unintentionally hurt their children.
Children need ground under their feet. Their foundation, their ground is solid when they feel secure and loved. Conflict breeds insecurity. Conflict over who is going to have the kids and the details of the holiday arrangements are very stressful for children. If you’re in conflict, you are not building the ground under their feet. You are taking the ground away by making them feel insecure and unsettled. When co-parents are in conflict, and children feel like the pawn between two warring tribes, it affects them negatively. Period.
You might think that you’re proving to them how much you love them by fighting to be with them, but that is not love. That is neediness. That is taking care of yourself, not them. If you fight to be with your children to avoid your own difficult emotions, you are not doing for your children what they really need you to do.
So, if you want to raise emotionally healthy children, and if you want to have close, connected relationships with them that last a lifetime, you need to put your big person pants on and listen up, because I’m going to tell you some hard truths. These truths, if you believe them and act accordingly, will involve short-term pain. The payoff will be in the healthy way your children develop, and the relationship that you cultivate with them that will last a lifetime.
Four Painful Holiday Truths for Co-parents
1. You don’t own your children. They are not here to make you feel good. In fact they are not here for you at all. You are here for them. They are not here to make your holidays feel good. You are here to make sure that they have solid ground under their feet, even if it makes you feel bad.
2. Sometimes in order to give your children what they need, you need to learn how to be with difficult feelings; the icky, painful, intense ones that you don’t like and really don’t want to feel. When parents are not with their children for part or all of the holiday, feelings of loneliness and grief often descend. The inability to tolerate difficult feelings may be the single most cause of conflict between co-parents. When people feel bad, they often fight for what they think will make them feel better. Unfortunately, what feels good to you is not necessarily what your children need. Emotions are painful, but they won’t kill you. You become more mature, better parents and role models when you learn to ride through your difficult emotions without acting out of them.
3. True love is often sacrificial. You may think that love should feel good, but sometimes when you are being the most loving, you feel like… terrible. You love your children by being able to tolerate your own difficult emotions to put ground under their feet. You decide not to fight so that they don’t have to live in the stress and anxiety that erodes their well-being. Allowing your children to be with their other family is an act of love. Feel the love in your heart. Feel the sadness, but know you’re doing the right thing.
4. Holidays will probably never live up to your standard. Accept in advance that your holiday is not likely to look like the ones in the commercials. We set ourselves up for disappointment and grief by expecting some image or vision of the holidays that will likely not happen. Be realistic about what you expect. Enjoy what’s in front of you. Joy is found in the moment. Be grateful all the many blessings in your life even if the moment isn’t what you planned or envisioned. If you stop and count your blessings, you will find joy.
Growing up, facing the truth, being with your difficult feelings, is the best gift you can give your children. For the upcoming holiday season, commit to do the right thing. Take the stress out of the holidays for your children by giving up the fight, even if it means feeling terrible. It will be pain that pays off for children. And, whatever pays off for your children pays off for you because you will be cultivating emotionally healthy children with whom you have close connected relationships which is, of course, your deepest and most cherished goal!