I’ve found that a super stressful time during any holiday is figuring out where everyone is going and who’s spending time with whom.
When you’re hammering those details out in advance, the negotiating can take a toll. We’re going to look at some ways you can make any holiday easier.
Stay calm and focused on problem solving. If you feel yourself starting to get upset, ask to take a break. Make sure you set a firm time to start the conversation again. Focus on creating a schedule that’s fair to both of you.
Be an example and use the Golden Rule. How would you like to be treated? Make sure you model the behavior you’d like to see. Remember, your kids are watching. The way you respond to your ex is going to teach them how to behave with others. Don’t ever forget that you’re their role model!
Keep lines of communication as open as possible. Don’t make decisions about who will spend time where and with whom until you negotiate with your ex - blindsiding them with ultimatums is just going to start a fight. One great way to facilitate a discussion is to…
Use Reflective Listening. Reflective Listening is simply reflecting back what someone else has said. It reduces misunderstandings and allows each party in a conversation to feel heard. In a visitation conversation, it would sound like this:
“I’m hearing that you want to pick up the kids at 4PM Thursday.”
“It seems like you think I should have the kids for Easter.”
“It sounds like you’re uncomfortable dropping off the kids at my parents.”
“I feel like you think you aren’t going to get enough time to spend with the kids.”
Ask for what you want. Don’t be afraid to ask for what is most convenient for you. The point of negotiation is for each party to ask for what they want, and then make compromises until a fair and mutually agreeable decision is made.
During your negotiation, avoid using verbiage like, “You always do that!” or, “You never listen to me!” Casting blame and accusations just creates tension and starts arguments.
Make sure you’re specific. “I'd like to take the kids to my mom’s on Christmas Eve. I could drop the kids off at your place on Christmas morning at 10...?”
Make sure to ask the kids what THEY want. Find out before your conversation with your ex what the kids would like. You and your ex might decide to do things differently, but at least let them feel like they have some say in the matter, and give them as much of a choice as you can. “Would you like to spend Christmas Eve with me or with Dad this year?”
Be flexible. The idea behind a compromise is that a fair agreement is made that both parties can live with. Don’t rigidly insist on a particular day and time unless you’re willing to give something else up; also, don’t let the ex run all over you like a steamroller. Which leads us to…
Set limits if you have to. Use XYZ statements to set limits. “When you do X, I feel Y, and I’d like Z.” An XYZ statement would sound like this: “When you insist that you want me to drive 30 miles on Christmas Eve, I get angry and feel used. I’d like to meet you halfway.”
Create your own, new traditions. It can be disappointing when the traditions we used to follow aren’t possible anymore. Look over those past traditions and decide what you want to discard, keep, or change. Ask the kids what their favorite traditions are, or ones they want to create.
For example, you might decide to get together with friends for some holidays, have a holiday movie-fest night, or create new traditions for putting up decorations.
These are only a few of the ways you can cope with holiday custody negotiations. You can learn how to stop feeling overwhelmed (and start taking control!) so you can though the holidays in one piece by picking up my free emotional first aid kit. Get yours here: www.thequietzonecoaching.com/firstaid.
Susan Petang is a Certified Stress Management Coach who helps divorcing women not only get through tough days in one piece, but also start waking up happy in the morning again.