For any parent, being divorced during the holiday season is especially tough. Starting with the long Thanksgiving weekend that’s just about here and continuing through New Year’s, it seems that there are almost daily reminders shouting “You are divorced!”
If the holidays are difficult for you as a divorced father, they are especially tough on your children. Whether your kids were toddlers or well into their teens when you and your ex split up, it’s likely they are feeling the separation even more keenly than you are. In fact, studies reveal that children of divorced parents are less likely to express their anxiety, loneliness or loss than are adults.
You can help them – and yourself – through a difficult few weeks by following a few tips I often suggest to the men I represent during and after their divorce.
It’s About Kids
The holidays should be a magical time for children. As I explained to a client who was distraught at the prospect of the first holiday season away from his three young children, “Stay focused on making this time of year as happy for them as you can. It will help all of you get through.”
Here are some basic do’s and don’ts to keep in mind. Regardless of how angry or upset you might be with your ex, avoid letting it spill over onto the children.
DO keep children your top priority – Regardless of their age, their well-being must be at the top of your mind and priority list. Keep them out of any ongoing battles we’re having with your spouse; we’ll help you continue the fight after the holidays are over.
DO start planning early – Especially if you have joint custody of the kids, begin holiday planning now. The more specific your plan, the better it is for everyone including the children. If the divorce decree didn’t specify the dates when children will be with each parent, use a polite and low-keyed email or text to explain when the holiday period begins and ends.
DO be smart about presents – Ask your ex what she plans to give to avoid duplicates. If your child is hoping for an expensive gift, discuss giving a joint present. Believe it or not, kids are remarkably resilient and more capable of accepting their new reality than you might think when they see their parents have a strong relationship. It’s not always easy to achieve, but it’s in the best interests of the children and trying to one-up each other helps nobody.
DO obey the divorce decree – Usually, a divorce decree spells out parenting time around major holidays and summer vacations from school. If there is confusion or a dispute between the children’s mother and you about who gets them when and for how long, use the decree as your reference point. If there still is a problem, feel free to call us to help you end the confusion.
Just as there are things you need to do during the holidays, there are others that you should not do no matter what you’re feeling this time of the year.
DON’T break promises – Children rely on their parents to keep their word. Don’t change plans at the last minute just to irritate your spouse because you’re really hurting the kids. Besides, when you break a promise, you teach the children it’s alright to do the same thing. It’s important to remind them that you are a grownup.
DON’T ignore your children’s feelings – It’s crucial to remind your offspring that they are not responsible for your divorce, which is a common feeling among kids this time of the year. Both parents need to display genuine interest in what the children are doing at their other home this time of the year. Help them prepare for the holidays and, afterwards. ask about what they did while showing genuine interest.
DON’T obsess on past traditions – Part of the change that comes from divorce are new rituals and traditions. Rather than focusing on the old ones, plan and create new ones that you and your children can do together. But be sure to ask them which traditions are important and they want to keep before tossing all of the old ones away.
DON’T try to “win” – Holidays shouldn’t be a WWF cage match between you and your ex. By all means, avoid buying the most expensive gift, or getting the largest tree, or baking the most cookies. It’s not healthy for the kids and will only cause problems later on. Holidays are about being together with your children, not about the “stuff” that you give them.
DON’T be alone – If you are feeling down because you’re not spending as much time with the children as you want, don’t hole up in your room. Make plans to be with other family members, your friends, even work colleagues. One client told me that he had organized a dinner with all of the “adult orphans” he knew: People like himself whose children and families were elsewhere. It helped everyone get through what would otherwise be a tough time
Regardless of whether Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza or even Festivus – or any other seasonal holiday – was a big deal when you were married, for the kid’s sake and yours make it special for them now. Many of their friends will be having family events so create one for yours.
On January 2, 2019 the holidays are over and soon the kids will be back in school. With a little thought and planning, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s still can be special for you and your children.
If you are having trouble coping with the holidays, I invite you to participate in our men’s divorce and custody support group. You do not have to be a client of ours. You’ll find an open and accepting group of men and divorced dads who are in a similar situation and it may help you feel less isolated.
And for divorced dads in New Jersey, if you are having trouble getting your ex to let you spend the agreed-upon time with your children during the holidays, please call our men’s and fathers’ family and divorce lawyers at either (973)562-0100 in Nutley or in Montclair at (862)245-4620. I know what you’re going through and we can help you get a judge to compel your former spouse to honor the agreement she signed.