Reprinted from the SI Advance.
Co-parents need to learn how to share
By: Elise G. McIntosh
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s — they can be a landmine for co-parents to navigate. Just-divorced exes, not yet settled into a co-parenting groove, especially may struggle with ironing out who will get the kids during the holidays and other issues that crop up.
Sequoia Stalder and Cara Raich, partners at Stalder Raich, a Manhattan-based family and divorce mediation firm, say the key to co-parenting during the holiday season — anytime, really — is plenty of planning and communication.
Stalder, who also serves as the director of Conflict Resolution Services at New York Center for Interpersonal Development in St. George, suggests co-parents speak about the holidays well in advance so everyone — including the kids — has clear expectations about what’s going to happen on those days.
When making arrangements, he suggested co-parents have the conversation close enough to the holiday to have a realistic idea about plans but far enough to make modifications, if need be.
“It differs for each family,” he said, but generally planning six to eight weeks before the holiday works well.
Stalder also said having a yearly holiday plan in place — while still remaining flexible for the surprises that inevitably come up — can help reduce stress and aggravation.
Ms. Raich noted many co-parents they have counseled alternate having the children for the holidays.
Each family has to decide which method works best for them, but one system that works well is switching according to the calendar year. For instance, Dad gets the kids for Christmas during years that end in even numbers while Mom has them during odd-numbered years.
Ms. Raich says it also is helpful for co-parents to view the holidays as a block of time that can be divided up. Christmas, for example, may be broken up into eve, morning and night, giving kids the opportunity to spend a portion of the holiday with both Mom and Dad.
Co-parents also should discuss the logistics of picking up and dropping off the children during the planning stages, said Ms. Raich.
“Be as specific as you can,” she said, explaining, “Discussing the small details can help in diffusing conflict.”
Flexibility and a forgiving attitude also go a long way. If your ex is late or suddenly makes a change to the plans, “try not to access the angry place first,” said Ms. Raich.
Rather, she encourages an ex-spouse to see it from his/her co-parent’s perspective and try to understand why he or she needed to revise the plan.
When picking up/dropping off the kids to/from a holiday celebration, avoid having an involved conversation with your ex.
“This is not the time to have a substantial talk,” Ms. Raich said.
Stalder said co-parents need to be mindful of their communication. If a hostile tone starts creeping into the conversation, make sure the kids aren’t within earshot.
“You don’t want to expose them to your conflict,” he explained, noting it can do damage, emotionally.
To avoid getting into a heated discussion, Stalder recommends “I” messages.
“Focus on your feelings versus accusations,” he said. “Really try to express what’s important to you rather than blaming the other side.”
If tensions between you and your ex continue to flare, it may be prudent to have a consultation with a mediator like Stalder and Ms. Raich, who work with co-parents in reaching mutually beneficial solutions.
The New York Center for Interpersonal Development also has a family mediation program that helps divorcing spouses deal with custody and visitation issues. The services are free to Staten Islanders. To learn more, call (718) 815-4557 and ask for the Mediation Center or visit nycid.org.