I love a good calendar milestone for providing us with the opportunity for a bit of a reset. Whether it’s the start of a new school year or the arrival of January 1st, these can be invaluable for giving us a little window for reflection on how we’d like the months ahead to unfold.
But while many resolution makers are cursing holiday weight gain and signing up for new gym memberships, they could be overlooking the tremendous value in using this time to set deeper intentions for the stuff that matters most to the well being of our families.
If you’re in a co-parenting relationship, you may want to consider how the New Year could be an opportunity to refine or even remake how things are managed and communicated in your family.
Perhaps things are going fairly smoothly between you and your child’s other parent, but you’d like to come up with a better way of managing and monitoring homework or screen time. Maybe you’d just like to lose fewer mittens and toques in the treks between school and both of your homes. (If you find the secret to this one, please tell me!)
But if things have been quite tense with your co-parent, perhaps you’d like to turn over a new leaf in 2019, opening the door to more positive communication and better collaboration all around. There’s a whole spectrum of possibility here for making life smoother and happier in the year ahead.
Here are some things to think about as you set your goals:
Allow time for reflection
In order to get clear on what you want for the year ahead, it really helps if you give yourself some space to consider how things have been going. The holidays are such a busy time for parents – between working, shopping, merry-making and getting to all those special events on time – that it can be hard to find a moment for reflection. But when most of the hoopla is over, carve out some time for contemplation when you won’t be interrupted by kids. Perhaps you’ll find an early morning to sit with a cup of coffee and reflect. Maybe you do your best thinking when you’re alone in the car. Whatever you do, silence the phone, turn off all screens and just give yourself some needed headspace.
Consider consulting the kids
Depending on your situation and the age of your kids, you may want to solicit their input. By no means should this entail bringing them into grown-up matters that are contentious between you and your ex. But since this is all about collaborating on raising the kids you had together, it may make sense to ask them how they think things have been going and where things could be improved. Perhaps there’s some aspect of moving themselves and their stuff between two homes that they wish would go more smoothly, for example. You could then troubleshoot these together for 2019.
Extend an olive branch
If things have been tense between you and your former partner, or indeed downright acrimonious, you might leverage a little holiday season goodwill to see if you can improve the situation. Consider sending a thoughtfully worded email or even a handwritten card to wish your former partner a happy new year. In it you could acknowledge that things have been less than ideal between the two of you, and reference your common goal — the health and happiness of your kids. You might write something like, “Things have been really tough between us, but I know we both love the kids so much and want them to be happy. Can we have a reset in 2019?” If you know the kids have been aware of ill feelings — or have even witnessed arguments between the two of you — you could start there.
Which brings me to the top priority goal to set if your difficulties have bubbled over into negative exchanges in front of your children.
Minimize your kids’ exposure to conflict
In his great book Two Homes, One Childhood: A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime, Dr. Robert Emery, an esteemed psychologist and divorce researcher from the University of Virginia, outlines a hierarchy of needs for kids whose parents are divorced. Protection from conflict ranks right after having unconditional love from at least one parent.
He says research has long established that parental conflict is hard on kids. You know this, but in the moment in can be tough to keep a lid on the mixed bag of high-octane emotions you may be experiencing — things like frustration, anger, betrayal and grief. “You can show a range of feelings around your children, including sadness, anger and fear,” he writes. “But except for positive emotions like love or joy, set the ‘temperature’ of your emotional expression to lukewarm or cooler. Rant to your best friend, not to or around your children.”
That last point is an important one. Having supports in place makes it a lot easier to meet our co-parenting goals. So book an appointment with your therapist, or at least make sure you’re getting time with good friends onto your calendar — ideally both!
With an open-hearted outlook and good people around you, you’ll be able to establish smoother and more effective co-parenting in 2019. Happy New Year, all!