Above: Family and marriage therapist Trevor Mullineaux
Photograph by Chris Hammershoy
This time of year, friends and neighbors wish one another “Happy Holidays!” But when it comes to our families, the season can bring up a lot of feelings, some good, some not. This is especially so for blended families. “Even when your family is intact, the holidays can be a challenge,” says Trevor Mullineaux, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Many of us enter the holiday season weighed down by overly cheery expectations of warm family time. From wildly differing political opinions to disagreements on child rearing to past holiday trauma, even securely attached families have challenges.” Here she offers some insights. More at trevormullineaux.com.
“When the list [“Rights of Respectful Co-Parenting,” at right] is violated, lessen the stress by planning ahead, and include holiday scheduling in your parenting plan. Know who has the kids during what holidays over a period of years; once agreed upon, this is enforceable by the courts.”
“Respect the holiday plan, respect your ex’s religious orientation and respect that your kids will be spending time with the ex’s family.”
FALLING OFF THE PLAN
“Discuss it with your ex away from the kids, and do not share your frustration with your ex with your children. If you can’t come to a respectful understanding, use a mediator. Also, don’t take your frustration out on your partner. If you are upset or anxious, ask for emotional support. Express your vulnerable feelings and create a stronger team between you. Be there for each other emotionally, and strive to create healthy boundaries. Also, minimize communication with your ex—have drop offs and pick-ups away from home.”
PROTECTING YOUR NEW PARTNER
“Manage all communication and insulate your spouse from negative emotion of your ex. Express to your spouse that you have his/her back and will protect him/her, and follow through.”
KEEP IN MIND
“Be careful about posting on social media—possibly photos of only you and the kids. Also, take the holidays slowly and keep your expectations low. Introduce your kids to your new partner slowly and with age-appropriate activities. Finally, do not ask your children permission to bring your new partner to family events. As the adult, you decide what is appropriate.”
”Blending families is an art and takes time. It will take seven years for holidays to be safely ‘grooved’ in. Create strong boundaries around your new family…blending is an imperfect journey fraught with difficult and deeply rewarding moments.”
RIGHTS OF RESPECTFUL CO-PARENTING
1. Both parents are respectful of each other.
2. Support, tuition, alimony and such are paid on time.
3. Kids are dropped off and picked up on time.
4. Both put the child’s well-being at the center of parenting decisions.
5. Both respect books, events, gear and child’s interests. They show up to events and deliver the kids’ stuff without issues.
6. Neither disparages the other.
7. Both follow the parenting plan meticulously.
8. Both have a working relationship and are flexible. Communication is clear, timely and respectful.
9. Both are supportive of a new spouse and appreciative of his/her efforts with the kids.
10. Disputes are settled by discussion without mediator or court. Neither feels taken advantage of.