Let’s talk about making holidays better for children in separated or divorced families. Many children are living with separated parents. They may be spending time with one parent for one of the holidays and then with the other parent for the next holiday – or co-parents could find creative ways to share important holidays or celebrations (“I get the kids on Christmas Eve and you get them on Christmas Day,” for instance).
It is important, during the holidays (and at all other times, actually), to make sure that the children enjoy their time with both parents and with both parents’ extended families and sets of friends.
The holidays can sometimes be very emotional times. Planning for the holidays can start months in advance. Conversations about the holidays and where they will be spent, with whom they will be spent and how they will be spent, right down to the menu and number of guests are not uncommonly occurring well before the holidays arrive.
Your child may be part of or privy to some of the conversations and some of the planning. Even though we would never hurt our child or make our child unhappy or sad, sometimes we lose perspective or don’t realize that some of our actions and or statements have unintended results and hurt our children.
So we need to keep all of this in perspective. Here to help keep all of this in perspective are 4 things to think about for Thanksgiving and other holidays and letting children enjoy them:
How to Help Children Enjoy Their Post-Divorce Holidays
BEFORE THE HOLIDAYS:
1. Children should not be made to feel as if they are responsible for holiday schedules.
Telling your child that you are sorry they won’t be with you this year or that you’ll miss them when they are gone or that the holiday is not the same without them or that everyone will miss them, will only make your child sad and make your child wish that they could help you avoid being sad or avoid everyone missing them. Your child can’t help you! Your child is subject to the holiday schedule which has been set and the schedule is not the child’s “fault”. The schedule is not under their control and not of their choosing.
DURING THE HOLIDAYS:
2. Children ought to be able to enjoy the holidays no matter with whom the holidays are spent. Negative comments about the other parent should be prohibited from anyone in your child’s presence.
Make sure that other people who will be with you and around your child know “the rules”. Make sure they know that YOU want your child to enjoy and have a stress-free holiday.
3. Children should be free to talk about the other parent and relate things they’ve done with the other parent or things that have happened with the other parent without thinking that this will bring out “disapproval” or “criticism” of any type.
Make sure that you avoid negative facial expressions and negative comments if your child talks about things involving the other parent.
Do not question or interrogate your child about the other parent and things the other parent is doing or things the child has done with them. You will find that silence from you will lead to the comfort of the child. You will also discover that your child will give you much more information (maybe more than you want) regarding life in the other household.
4. Children should not be stressed during exchanges.
Make sure that exchanges of your child and their clothes and anything else the child wishes to bring or take are pleasant and without stress.
If the time or place for an exchange is moved by the other parent, explain to your child that you and the other parent have “agreed” to a new time or place.
If you have to change the time or place and the other parent refuses, find someone to help you with the exchange. Let the child know that you have another obligation. Make sure your substitute “exchanger” knows the rules.
Keep your child’s viewpoint in mind and be conscious of your child’s feelings, perceptions and need for comfort. Doing this will help you avoid involuntarily creating stress in his/her life. Imagining, for a while, what a child hears and sees and how a child may want to “fix” an “un-fixable” situation, may help you be more aware of how things you can control can make your child’s life and holidays more enjoyable and full of a lot more good memories. Let’s work on making holidays better for children of separated or divorced parents.