Creating Peace at Christmas–and the Rest of the Year

By: Tess Worrell

Christmas–the season of peace and joy, right? Most of us long for some sort of Normal Rockwell experience–even when we must share the children with an ex. But, what if the other parent’s holiday choices create more dissension than celebration? After a divorce, how does a parent cope with the differing lifestyles of their ex?The authors of Joint Custody with a Jerk offer two key principles to turn conflict into cooperation.

First: Establish–Who needs to resolve this problem?

When people are in uproar, discerning the responsible party can be a challenge. Everyone has feelings. Everyone has a demand.

But. . .for every problem, there is someone who should take ownership and make decisions. This doesn’t mean everyone else bails out of the situation or passively watches the responsible person sink or swim. It simply establishes how each party could respond. Some questions help define the responsible party:

  • What exactly is the problem?
  • Who is upset?
  • Who brought up the issue?

If Dad schedules his annual Christmas barbecue the same night as daughter’s Christmas trip with the youth group, numerous people might be upset, but for varying reasons.

Possibility 1: Mom is upset because she’s already spent money on the trip and truly wants Carley to attend.

Possibility 2: Dad is upset because he’s just trying to host a family get-together and see his children at Christmas. The first three dates he requested were shot down because of prior commitments, so he just set this one.

Possibility 3: Carley is upset because she has to choose between missing Christmas with Dad’s side of the family and missing a trip she’s looked forward to for months.

To determine who owns responsibility for the issue, ask “Who is upset? Who brought up the issue?” The name answering both questions owns responsibility for resolving the issue.

Next: Responsible party crafts a solution to resolve his/her concerns.

If Mom is upset and brought up the issue, then mom needs to take ownership. Is she upset because she spent money on the trip? Or, because she doesn’t want to disappoint the youth leader? Or, because she fears her daughter is losing interest in the youth group, and Mom wants to reconnect her through something fun? If Mom is really upset about weakening ties with the youth group, she doesn’t need to fight about the money.

If the cost is an issue, Mom needs to assess whether she rightly spent the money. If Dad scheduled his barbecue on one of his parenting days and Mom just assumed he would flex for the trip because he’s been so good in the past (or hasn’t been, so she avoided talking to him), Mom may have to eat the cost. She might also respectfully request, “I don’t know if you realized that the day of your party, Carley has a big trip planned. I already spent $100 for her to go. Would it be possible for you to reschedule?”

Alternatively, if Mom cleared the date with Dad and he then scheduled the party over the trip, Mom should address directly. She can offer, “We agreed that Carley could go on this trip. I’ve already spent the money. If you expect her to miss the trip to come to your house, please reimburse me the cost. I also expect you to be the one to inform her of the change.” This respectfully conveys her concerns with a specific means for addressing.

If Mom’s real concern is Carley’s connection to the youth group, Carley should go to Dad’s. Mom can address those concerns in a separate setting.

If Dad is upset and raising the issue, Dad needs to take ownership of the problem. If he’s tried multiple dates during his parenting time but children have declined due to other commitments , Dad needs to sit down with the kids and offer, “I want to have our traditional barbecue with all my side of the family. It’s a busy time of year for everyone, so I need your help to make this work. Here are three dates, which one can all of you attend.” This puts the onus on Dad to lead the discussion and on the children to make a priority of time with Dad. Mom can support by helping the children understand how to prioritize time to ensure one of the dates works.

If Carley is upset and bringing up the issue, she needs to own the problem. Did Carley talk to Dad before signing up for a trip on a day scheduled with him? If not, she might need to learn the consequences of not clearing an event before committing. Mom can support by simply holding Carley to her responsibilities–but Mom doesn’t have to step in to fix. Carley should inform the youth leader she can’t attend.

Was the day truly open but Carley torn between competing priorities? She will spend the rest of her life making tough choices between good alternatives. Dad’s party offers the perfect opportunity for parents to teach Carley the skill of managing time to meet priorities. If Carley chooses to go on the trip, she will have to face the cost of hurting her father and missing a significant family event. If she chooses the barbecue, she will learn that investment in relationships can cost, but the payoff is usually worth it. Either way, Carley learns to make choices and live with the outcome. Parents support by letting life teach.

As parents move into separate lives, they begin living life differently. Sometimes, very differently. When the differences impact holiday perceptions or plans, dissension threatens everyone’s joy. Parents create peace for everyone as they take ownership for their own household–and let the other parent do the same.

The principles underlying this blog are expertly laid out in the book “Joint Custody with a Jerk” by Julie Ross and Judy Corcoran. We highly recommend the book for all.

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Though we come from a variety of experiences and backgrounds, the team at The Resolution Center shares one common goal: to bring healing and hope to those going through turmoil. ‘We know conflict wreaks havoc and wrecks dreams. Each of us brings specialized skills and a proven process to move people through the conflict to a place of stability, peace, and the possibility for their future.