The holiday season is quickly approaching. Half of the stores are already setting up their Christmas displays – before Halloween is even finished, and it’s supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year for children.
Children will have a particularly difficult time at first Christmas after a divorce, particularly if this is the first year post-divorce. Many families will spend the holiday together, laughing, eating and opening presents. When this is gone, it becomes very difficult for children to handle.
There is a right and wrong way to handle Christmas after a divorce.
Handling Christmas the Wrong Way
The first thing to remember is simple: kids want to be with both parents during the holidays. This may not be possible, and if you don’t want to spend the holiday with your ex, this is understanding.
But if you’re suddenly concerned about how your kids spend their free time and you’re pulling them in all directions, it will make Christmas a day kids want to forget.
A good example of this is when a person has a small family. You may just have your grandmother over on Christmas, and you make it a point to always have your child the entire day because the day would be quiet and uneventful otherwise.
And when step-parents enter the equation, things get even more difficult.
- I want Lucy to eat dinner at my house.
- You had Lucy last year, it’s my turn.
Lucy will often eat two dinners just to hold the peace.
Guilt and control can make a special holiday one that kids fear and despise. It’s up to the adults to be civil, but oftentimes, the kids are the ones that are civil while the parents bicker.
What can you do?
Handling Christmas (or Any Holiday) the Right Way
It’s a delicate situation dealing with kids at the holidays after a divorce. You don’t want to be Lucy’s parents, who make Christmas a day of the year that is filled with anxiety and stress. There are a few things you can do:
Remain a Family at Christmas
If you still get along with your ex, it may be a wise choice to remain a family at Christmas. This doesn’t mean you want to “fake” a relationship. What this means is that dad may come over in the morning, and he’ll stay through dinner time.
Even if dad is remarried, make it a point to include everyone: wives, husbands, kids, etc.
This isn’t a possibility for many families, so sharing the holiday can be an impossible feat for some. You may still have severe resentment towards your ex, and this would quash any chance of a happy day filled with celebrations.
Make Yearly Arrangements
When going over custody arrangements, go over Christmas and try to come to an amicable agreement as to who your kids will stay with. This may result in an every other year Christmas at your home, but when everything is settled and there is no bickering involved, it will be a much better choice for your child.
If you make arrangements beforehand (months beforehand), it will alleviate the stress put on your children.
There is also the opportunity to have a split arrangement. Lucy may go to her dad’s home until after lunch, and then she’ll go back to mom’s house for the rest of the night and dinner. This allows both parents to spend time with their kids on Christmas.
The “Ask the Child” Debate
There are some people who recommend asking the child to pick where they want to spend Christmas. The issue is that the child will be put in a very difficult situation. This can include:
- Guilt: Mom or dad doesn’t have anyone to spend Christmas with, so the child may choose to stay with either parent so that they’re not alone.
- Resentment: Lucy may always choose to spend Christmas with one parent, and this will lead to resentment and arguments among parents over time.
- Stress: When you ask your child which parent they want to stay with on the holiday, it will cause him or her a lot of stress. Kids don’t want to have to pick sides, and asking them to choose is picking sides in many cases.
In theory, it sounds like a good thing to ask your child to choose, but this route is often filled with consequences, such as guilt and resentment.
There will be hurdles in the way of most holidays unless the parents are able to come to an amicable agreement on how to handle holidays after the divorce. In the ideal world, you’ll both be able to see your child on Christmas, and no one will hold resentment or put added stress on the children.
The Micklin Law Group, LLC is a New Jersey law firm focusing on family law for men and fathers. Attorney Brad Micklin was recently named to The National Advocates list of Top 100 attorneys from each state. Brad has experience working with high asset divorce. You can read more on this topic by visiting our divorce blog. To set up a consultation, call 973-562-0100.