How to Keep the Happy in the Holidays While Co-Parenting

by: Laura Moore, B.Sc. (Honours)

The media markets the holiday season as a “picture perfect” time to connect with your family; these unrealistic expectations are especially challenging while trying to co-parent. Letting go of “perfect” and working together with your previous partner during one of the most stressful times of the year may feel nearly impossible. Remembering every co-parenting situation can look different, the following tips can make it possible to keep the ‘happy’ in the holidays while co-parenting.

Plan Ahead But Be Flexible 

Create a holiday plan at least a month or more in advance of the holidays. This plan may be derived from your parenting plan or your separation agreement. While making this plan keep in mind the extended family and still encourage these connections on both sides. Although planning ahead is of the utmost importance, remaining flexible over the holidays will reduce upset for yourself, your previous partner, and your children. Believe it or not, the holiday schedule may be much more important to you than to your children.

It Starts with You

This holiday season (when you know you are going to be alone), make plans to see loved ones. Also, seek the help you need from a therapist to work through some of the grief and loss you may be experiencing during the holidays. In this process, you will begin to let go of expectations and find moments of happiness as you embrace new traditions. Allow space for you and your children to be upset and move away from the expectations surrounding the holiday season. By creating a safe, calm, and positive space for yourself, the effects will trickle down to your children as they often rely on you to help regulate their emotions and see the whole picture. Continue to collectively focus on what you do have together and not what you don’t have.

Less is More 

It’s not the presents that make the holidays so special; instead, it’s the presence of the ones we love. It is essential to communicate with the other parent about items that are off-limits for holidays and what is on your children’s gift list this year. Do not try and outdo one another; this will put a lot of pressure on you and make gift shopping and planning activities quite stressful. Try not to overcompensate with excessive activities and planning, and try to spread out the holidays. Most importantly, enjoy some of the simple pleasures of the holiday season. Doing so will allow you not to lose sight of what is most important!

Communication 

Communication should be purposeful and child-focused. When you show empathy and care to your previous partner, it allows your children to see you still have a relationship with the other parent in a positive way. Schedule a phone call to talk about the upcoming holidays. If communication is difficult for you and your previous partner, possibly invest in a gift for one another this holiday and use a communication app, either 2houses or Our Family Wizard. Most importantly, do not use your children as a way to communicate messages back and forth between you two.

Connection

Although you may experience feeling you are alone, your previous partner is probably struggling just as much as you are. Have your children buy a present and make a card for the other parent. Letting your children love and communicate with the other parent will not affect your child’s love for you. As much as splitting the holiday season is new for you, it is also a new concept for your children. Encourage your children to consistently communicate with the other parent via phone, video call, and text. Create a shared album and add pictures to it each day. Also, your children will enjoy any chance where previous traditions can still be shared with both parents.

You cannot go wrong if you put your children first and let them be your guiding light as you navigate the holiday season while co-parenting. The “good enough” holiday season will happen when we let go of our expectations and enjoy what we have created for ourselves at this moment. Remind your children that no matter who they spend their holidays with, the holidays can create a magical feeling that will be in the memories for years to come!

Laura Moore, B.Sc. (Honours) is a therapist at the Centre For Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto. She is completing her Masters degree in Clinical Psychology at the Adler Graduate Professional School in Toronto. Laura works with adults and couples in therapy, to support them to overcome challenges related to depression, stress, grief and loss, trauma, and relationship conflicts. Her current research focuses on cultivating spousal attunement following traumatic experiences.

‘Tis the (Exam) Season!

by: Dr. Marisa Murray, C.Psych. (Supervised Practice)

You’ve prepared for weeks. Or maybe you haven’t? Your social life–at this point, is non-existent! Whether you’ve studied to the brink of reciting the material in your sleep or if your total exam prep has consisted of overnight cramming, when exam day arrives, the same thing often happens. Thoughts of uncertainty begin to kick in, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and anxious.

It’s natural to feel some butterflies in your stomach before an exam. It’s similar to the way you might feel before playing in the big game, performing on stage, or engaging in public speaking. Pre-exam jitters can be channeled to help motivate us to perform at our best. This is known as a helpful kind of anxiety. It helps us view the exam as an exciting challenge!

It’s the unhelpful kind of anxiety–the one that causes us to fear the exam, to have difficulty concentrating, to second guess ourselves or to have physical symptoms, like a headache or a racing heart–that interferes with our performance.

With exam season fast approaching, here are some helpful tips for managing your pre-exam anxiety: 

  1. Use your time effectively: No matter how hard you try, it can feel like there is ‘never enough time’ around exam season. Fine-tuning your time-management skills can include: using a calendar or a checklist to set goals, avoiding potential distractions (e.g., phone, your guilty pleasure on television) during study time, and keeping a consistent yet flexible study routine while rewarding yourself for meeting your study goals.
  2. Engage in self-care: Take care of yourself to manage your stress levels. Getting a good night’s sleep, taking breaks (typically ones that allow for stretching, moving around, replenishing food and water intake), engaging in social interactions, and/or practicing a relaxation activity are examples of how you can release some of the pre-exam stress. Just as you schedule your study time, schedule time for yourself!
  3. Develop a study plan: Consider putting together a realistic study plan that allows for flexibility. In developing your study plan, figure out which exams require more prep time. Also, try to factor in some wiggle room for potential obstacles that might interfere with the study plan (e.g., coming down with the flu!). Most importantly, figure out what helps you reach your optimal studying – do you study better alone? Or do you better achieve your studying goals in a group setting? Do you like to study in the comfort of your own home? Or do you prefer the silence of the library? Do you learn better visually? Auditorily? What time of day do you retain information best? Try to answer these questions and incorporate the answers into your study plan.
  4. Monitor your negative thoughts: Telling yourself, “I’m going to fail this exam,” can be very convincing to the powerful mind and, yes, exacerbate anxiety! Keep in mind that there will be questions you know and others you don’t. You cannot learn everything! Try to view your upcoming exam as a new experience. Perhaps the midterm didn’t go as well as you wanted – this is a new exam. Work on convincing your mind that you will “try your best.”
  5. Make use of available resources: Many schools offer workshops and presentations related to stress management, test-taking strategies, and time-management. Look into what’s available on campus. Also, make use of your professors’ and teaching assistants’ office hours to get a better grasp on challenging course material. Finally, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for assistance in managing unhelpful exam anxiety.


Dr. Marisa Murray, C.Psych. (Supervised Practice) is a psychologist in supervised practice at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto, Canada, under the supervision of Dr. Cassandra Pasiak, C.Psych. Dr. Murray supports children, adolescents, and adults with psychological treatment and assessment services, including psychoeducational assessments and treatment for eating disorders and body image-related issues.

The Challenges of Parenting

by: Dr. Lila Z. Hakim, C.Psych.

Parents often feel challenged by the shifting parenting strategies required to respond to their children’s changing developmental capacities and needs. When child-caregiver interactions meet children’s developmental needs, positive mental health outcomes are more likely in the short-term and down the road. 

Developmentally Sensitive Parenting: Child-caregiver interactions are essential to a child’s development. These interactions have a long-lasting impact on our children’s self-development, the quality of relationships with others, and their overall psychological well-being. Parenting requires sensitivity to a child’s emerging developmental needs. 

Sometimes parents are unable to respond to developmental milestones, which then affects the child’s self-development. When parenting is out of sync with these critical developmental milestones, it can be disruptive to healthy development and potentially compromise the security of the parent-child bond and the mental well-being of the child. In these circumstances, children and adolescents may begin to experience psychological symptoms and distress. Psychologists at CFIR can help you to parent in a manner that is sensitive to these developmental milestones. We help you develop strategies to respond to your children’s changing capacities and needs.

Parenting through Separation & Divorce: Parenting a child in the context of separation and divorce can be challenging. Learning how to talk to your children about separation and divorce in a developmentally-appropriate way is vital to support children to deal with this challenging life transition. Often emotional distance, anger, and hurt in the primary couple relationship will have tainted home life for an extended period before separation or divorce. Loss and grief experienced by the family breakdown and the eventual termination of the parent’s relationship have a reverberating effect on children. Learning how to deal with children during the separation and divorce process effectively supports parents and their children to ensure healthier psychological outcomes. Psychologists at CFIR can help you to address parenting issues in the context of separation and divorce, including navigating through emotionally challenging conversations associated with the various transitions involved in separation and divorce (i.e., leaving the family home, child access, co-parenting).

Co-parenting: In the aftermath of divorce, parents are often challenged to create a new parenting relationship, especially when children are young. Although the couple relationship did not work, parenting continues to be a shared responsibility. Developing an effective co-parenting strategy minimizes the impact of separation and divorce on children. Often this requires divorced parents to establish a collaborative plan of care, even though their relationship is ending. Our clinicians can help you to resolve your co-parenting conflicts and produce a satisfying co-parenting relationship in the aftermath of separation and divorce.

Step-parenting: Bringing a step-parent into a child’s world can be challenging. Often parents are unsure of how to integrate the step-parent into the child’s world. The role of the step-parent requires clarification in a manner in which the child’s relationship with both of their parents is not harmed in any way. Step-parents have a role to play in their stepchildren’s lives, but the process of integration is crucial to how this relationship will evolve. Psychologists and clinicians at CFIR are skilled in supporting you to develop a healthy blended family environment.

Read more about our Child, Adolescent & Family Psychology Service.

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