Expert Beacon | Brad Micklin
Divorce is difficult and around the holidays, it seems particularly complicated. Think about it, the holidays are tough even for intact families. There are extra commitments and obligations, figuring out gift purchases, blending traditions and, of course, deciding where festivities will be held.Though the added stress of the holidays can make divorced parents even more apt to fight, it’s particularly important that they make a concerted effort to be civil for their children’s sake. Why? Because as we professionals say the way holidays are handled can set the tone for the entire upcoming year.
Do keep your kids priority #1 at all times
No matter how much you want your kids with you for the holidays, think about the bigger picture. No matter how old or how young, their well-being needs to be kept at the forefront of planning around the holidays. That means planning so the kids can spend time with family on both sides. Keep them out of any disputes with your Ex. Better yet, don’t fight at all. Most importantly, enjoy the time you get to spend with your children. It may not be as much as you wish, but you can still make the most of it.
Do follow your divorce decree
There are typically provisions within the divorce decree that outline specifics of parenting time during major holidays. So, if there is any confusion between you and your ex, use the decree as a reference for what the court believes to be in the best interests of your children.
Do start planning early
It’s never too early to start making arrangements for the holidays, especially if you are co-parenting. The more specific your plan, the better. If you alternate holidays with your spouse and have a tough time not spending time with the kids on the holidays, then make other plans with family or friends in advance to lessen the emotional toll of being away from the kids. If you and your spouse each have the children for a specified time on Christmas. The best practice is to communicate with the other parent by email or text. Be sure to include specific details about when the holiday period begins and ends, where the custodial exchanges will take place, who is responsible for handling the exchange and be sure to pack any special clothing items the children may need to celebrate the holiday at issue.
Do be smart about the gifts
Talk to your ex about what he or she is planning to buy the kids. This will eliminate duplicates. Agree on limits and abide by those limits. If your child wants an expensive gift, think about going in on the gift together. A joint holiday gift can strongly convey an alliance and togetherness of the parents on behalf of their children. Children are more able to accept a new reality and move on if they see their parents remaining in a strong co-parenting relationship. Of course, there are often many barriers to achieving such a post-divorce relationship. In those cases, it remains a worthy goal to strive for to the extent possible.
In the end, always remember, the holidays are not about gifts and you can’t buy your children’s love.
Do not try to win
The holidays are not a competition. Don’t try to buy the most gifts or bake the most cookies or cut down the tallest tree. This one-upmanship isn’t healthy for the kids and certainly will cause problems down the road. Keep your children the priority and focus on spending time with them. It’s not about the “stuff” during the holidays. In fact, money is often incredibly tight as you adjust to your post-divorce financial situation, which can leave little room for extravagant gift-giving.
Do not obsess about old traditions
With divorce comes a lot of change.Part of that may be developing new rituals and traditions around the holidays. Elf on the Shelf may remind them of when you were all together. Or, watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” while decorating the tree may remind them of your ex. It’s a good idea to have an open conversation with the children about which rituals are most important to them and that they want to be retained.
Think about mixing it up. Maybe you volunteer on Christmas Eve? Or maybe you go out for Chinese food. It’s not always easy to move on from old traditions, so you may need to get extra support from your counselor or therapist. Same goes for the kids. You can also view these new arrangements as a bonding opportunity between you and the kids as you create your own new traditions.
Another thought: Christmas in July! Don’t be afraid to think out of the box.
Do not ignore or dismiss your children’s feelings
Keep in mind that all children have conflicted feelings about divorce, especially during the holidays. Help your children to not feel as if they are responsible for the parent they are not with, or feel guilty from enjoying being with the parent they are with. Have both parents show genuine interest in their child’s time and activities in the other home. Help your children prepare for the holiday, and inquire with interest about their time afterwards. Your interest conveys your permission.
Do not break promises
Children need to be able to count on their parents to act like adults. If you commit to do something, make sure you follow through. Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep.
If plans have been agreed upon for the holidays, don’t change your plans at the last minute to get back at your ex-spouse. In the end, you are just hurting your children. Also, when you act disrespectfully and break promises, you’re teaching your children it’s okay to do the same. Not following through on your plans is like saying to your children, “I don’t care. You really aren’t that important.” This kind of behavior can be very detrimental to the wellbeing of your children who in many instances are wondering if their parents still love them.
Divorced families can enjoy holidays in the same way that intact families do — perhaps even with a little less drama. Everyone will be happier knowing what to expect and avoiding conflict during the holidays gives both parents the ability to carry on traditions and create new ones, which will remain with their children for a lifetime.