The holidays can be a challenging time for you and your children after a breakup. If you are a recently divorced parent, the holidays can be an emotional, stressful, and perhaps a lonely time of year – especially if you don’t have new traditions and support systems in place.
While younger children may feel sad and miss being with both parents together, teens have a tendency to display anger or resistance to splitting their time between both of their parents’ households. Many children of divorce experience powerful divided loyalties during the holiday season and feel that they are being disloyal to one parent if they spend too much time with the other one.
First and foremost, you need to do everything in your power not to intensify your children’s loyalty conflicts during the holiday season. It’s wise to be flexible and understanding as you negotiate holiday schedules – your children may feel torn between their parents’ two disparate worlds.
Show compassion for your kids if they seem stressed or worried about presents, holiday schedules, or other issues. Remind them that it’s normal to feel more pressure this time of year and assure them that you will help them to navigate through rocky patches any way you can.
Make sure you are listening to what your ex-spouse is saying. Ask for clarification if you’re not sure and give them the benefit of the doubt. Take the time to try and understand their point of view. Even if you end up disagreeing, you will be able to clearly state what it is that you object to and your co-parent will feel heard. Try to compromise and keep your children’s best interests in mind.
Following these 10 tips can help your kids thrive during the holidays:
- Be businesslike, polite, and civil with your ex-partner. It’s important to treat your co-parenting relationship as a collaboration. Set new boundaries and communicate in the same way you would with your co-workers. Always treat your co-parent with respect and model cooperative behavior for your children.
- Adopt a positive mindset and attitude about the holidays. Remember that spending time with your kids doing enjoyable activities is the best part of this busy season.
- Plan ahead. Have a secure schedule in place for your children but try to be flexible. Communicate with your ex when needed and keep in mind that people can be more emotional during this busy holiday season.
- Don’t express anger toward your children’s other parent in front of them. Being respectful will set a positive tone for the years to come and lessen your children’s loyalty conflicts.
- Remember that your children are not possessions and that they have their own tender feelings to deal with during the holiday season. Do your best not to put them in the middle by making them a messenger between their parents or asking them too many questions about their time with their other parent.
- Make the commitment to your kids and communicate regularly. Avoid text messages which can be misunderstood. Emails are best but don’t click send without pausing and proofreading. Using communication channels where you don’t actually have to speak to each other can help to keep your emotions out of it and to be rational. Regular communication can be hard to commit to but make it part of your plan so that your kids feel special. It’s good to say nice things about their other parent if you can be sincere such as: “Your dad was nice to let you have a sleepover.”
- Try to see things from your child’s eyes. Practicing empathy is a key ingredient of effective co-parenting. Remember that your child’s other parent is still their mom or dad and deserves respect due to this fact.
- Validate your children’s feelings if they express sadness or other negative emotions. Let them know that it’s okay to feel this way and you are there for them. Don’t make them feel guilty about their time away from you – they don’t need to know if you feel lonely without them.
- Begin new holiday traditions that will create positive memories for you and your children. For instance, visiting friends, attending a play or concert, volunteering at a soup kitchen, or enjoying a special meal prepared by all of you. Hold onto traditions and activities from the past that worked for you and your kids.
- Remember to laugh and relax with your children. Laughter is one of the best ways to change a negative mood to a positive one. Take time out of every day to de-stress by doing things that you all enjoy – listen to music, work on a puzzle, or participate in other fun activities.
Modeling responsible behavior toward your former spouse is key to having a successful holiday. Children pick up on both verbal and non-verbal signs of anger so do your best to keep these feelings in check. Never bad mouth your ex and model respectful communication in front of your children. Studies show that children adjust better to divorce if their parents minimize conflict and are more cooperative.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Be sure to order her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Divorce and Enjoy a Happy long-lasting Relationship