Co-Parenting at the Holidays: It’s the Most Wonderful, and Complicated, Time of the Year

Co-Parenting at the Holidays: It’s the Most Wonderful, and Complicated, Time of the Year

latestBy Shannan Younger

I stayed in an irretrievably broken marriage longer than I should have in part because I hated the idea of sharing my amazing daughter, and the idea of spending the holidays without her terrified me. The thought of not seeing her face light up with wonder on Christmas morning seemed like too much, until, of course, everything else felt like too much.

That moment came when my four-year-old said something silly that gave me the giggles. She ran to the phone and called my parents. “I just made my mommy laugh, and that never happens!” she proudly announced.

It was then that I realized just how much I was failing at my job of modeling how to be a happy adult woman for my daughter. I was finally able to do the emotional math and see that my sadness at sharing her was no longer greater than the sadness of raising such a bright light of a little girl in an unhappy home with unhappy parents.  She deserves a mother who laughs, at least on occasion, and I needed to make the necessary changes to allow us both to be happy.

The fact that this epiphany happened in the middle of an intense summer heat wave probably helped make a holiday without my sweet girl seem distant, and bearable. But as the temperatures dropped and winter approached, my dread of spending holidays without her grew. I had no idea how to be without her.

This struck me as odd, given that when I first found out I was pregnant at the age of 25, the idea of being a mother with a child was foreign to me. The life-changing news came as a complete shock on a frigid December day and for the next few weeks it felt like I couldn’t walk two city blocks without encountering a nativity scene. Instead of feeling comfort and joy at the coming holiday, I felt panicked, unprepared, and inadequate. I had no idea how to be a mother, let alone be like the Virgin Mary, who always appeared so peaceful and serene. I was neither.

Five years later, I was full of angst and uncertainty again, but this time at the thought of not mothering my child. Yes, I would of course still be my child’s mother, but not in the way I had been the prior holidays. When a child is absent, the act of mothering is different, and in fact unnecessary. Someone else would give my child gifts, fix her food, tuck the covers around her body that was exhausted by a full day of celebrating, all without me. I loved all of those tasks, and most of all I loved making sure she knew I loved her.

So, I did all that before saying goodbye to her. And I still do, years later. She’s very tolerant of some extra hugs prior to her departure with her dad now that she’s a teenager. That first holiday season was difficult, but we made it through, and I’ve even gotten a bit better at it. Some years I am more successful than others. As soon as I think I have figured out this coparenting thing, the situation changes. Each year is different, and has its own curveballs. Perhaps the most memorable one came a few years into co-parenting when the phone rang one Christmas night.

“Is Santa real?” my then seven year-old daughter demanded to know in her most no nonsense voice.

“Uh . . .  Why do you ask?”” I pulled out my go-to, not-so-stellar yet sometimes revealing maternal response.

“Because Mr. West at dinner said that his granddaughter still believed in Santa and he thought that was really silly,” she said. The Wests were family friends of my former in-laws who had apparently joined them for Christmas dinner. She continued, “When he said that, everyone paused and then very slowly turned and they all looked at me. I think they were all staring at me because I still believe.”

“Did Dad tell you to call me?” I asked, stalling for time and wondering what the party line was here in a situation happening an hour away from my current location.

“Nope. Nobody knows I’m in here calling you,” she said.

“Great,” I thought to myself.

“What do you believe? I need to know,” she asked in a voice laced with desperation.

I indicated to my soon-to-be fiancée and his parents were waiting for me to rejoin them that I was going to need a few moments. I proceeded to have a heart to heart with my daughter about how not everyone believes the same thing, which is okay. I told her that I believe in love and giving and magic, all things for which Santa stands, and so yes, I believe in Santa and while it’s true that he gets some help from parents around the world, I see evidence of his existence every single year, sometimes when I least expect it. I left it up to her and said that what matters most is what she believes deep down in her heart.

Ideally, we would have had this conversation when I had the ability to look into her deep blue eyes and wrap my arms around her, but that was the circumstance. My heart broke that I could not do so, but we got through it. And sometimes co-parenting is about getting through it as best you can.

Author’s Note: I’m very grateful that talks about the challenges of co-parenting during the holiday season. Millions of Moms and Dads will be sharing their children this holiday season; knowing we are not alone and hearing how others navigate the waters is helpful and comforting. I love the tips on co-parenting through the holidays in this video, and most of all, I appreciate how VProud has initiated the conversation about this important parenting challenge.

Shannan Younger is a recovering attorney living in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and teen daughter. She blogs at Mom Factually, ChicagoNow’s Between Us Parents and as part of the Chicago Parent Blogger Network. Her writing has appeared on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Mamalode, Scary Mommy, Club Mid, BonBon Break, and In the Powder Room, and her essays have been included in two anthologies by The HerStories Project. She is also freelance writer for regional magazines. Shannan was in the 2013 cast of Listen to Your Mother, despite the fact that her daughter often fails to do so. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

This is a sponsored post in partnership with