By Vicki Shemin, Domestic Relations Attorney
It’s been said by Charles R. Swindoll that “life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.” The holiday season doesn’t have to be miserable despite being divorced. There are several ways families can make the holidays joyful for their children.
One blessing we all wish to impart to our children is happy holiday memories spent in harmony and joyous celebration.
For families of divorce, the challenge becomes all the tougher as they strive not to turn happy holidays into nightmarish realities.
The most valuable present divorced co-parents can give their children is the gift of happy remembrances and celebrated traditions – one of the most effective ways this can be achieved is through an attitude shift.
As a divorce attorney and clinical social worker, in my work with families, I emphasize the recognized interplay between neuroplasticity (essentially, children’s developing brains) and how adversity in a child’s environment can lead to depression and mental health disorders both in the short-term (exhibiting signs as early as pre-school age) and long-term (not atypically at adolescence and beyond).
With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror and Christmas, Chanukkah, and Kwanzaa in sight, it is not too early for families of divorce to don an attitude shift and proactively consider how to make holidays magical for their children. To that end, I offer these practical considerations:
Here are 4 Ways Families Can Make the Holidays Special for Their Children
On behalf of our divorcing co-parents, we spend so much time crafting detailed holiday schedules down to the hour of the transition time between households. Parents coin the resultant timetable “my year.” Really? What parents too often lose sight of is that every year is their children’s year, and every year parents should hold themselves to the highest standard of what they can do to create happy holiday memories for their children. When I draft the divorce agreement or counsel parents about the range of possibilities, I am most impressed with those families who – despite “whose year it is” – carve out time to share Christmas Day/Eve, Kwanzaa candle-lighting ritual, or a Channukah Menorah lighting either at the home of the other parent or at a mutually agreeable location.
Like it or not, holidays go hand-in-hand with commercialism. Far too often, I have seen gift-giving become an exploited opportunity for parents to compete with one another by investing in the greater quantity or expense of a holiday gift. Why not show your child that you can consult with one another to come up with a calibrated list or, better yet, that you can agree to one special gift so that your children can always have the memory that – no matter how Mom and Dad felt about each other, they cared enough about me to model collaboration. This is another good way of making the holidays joyful for your children.
Honoring Your Co-parent
And speaking of modeling good behavior, among my prescriptions for injecting joy into the holidays is to help your child select a gift for your ex-spouse. Despite what coulda/woulda/shoulda happened during the marriage, it is mission critical to honor the mother or father of your child. This usually involves shopping with or for your child, paying for, and wrapping the gift.
Don’t Forget Extended Family
An integral part of making the holidays joyful for your children is linked to spending them with extended family members. Unfortunately, in too many divorced family constellations, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews are – cruelly or thoughtlessly – unceremoniously cut out of the family equation. Although it is just the co-parents divorced, the ripple effect is seen and felt throughout the entire family and the generations.
While parents of divorce cannot change the facts of what has transpired, every day of every year, parents can shift their attitudes and elect to make a mindful choice as to how to positively bring joy into the life of their children during the holidays and beyond.
Vicki L. Shemin, J.D., LICSW, ACSW is a domestic relations attorney and clinical social worker specializing in alternative dispute resolutions for divorcing families. She practices at Fields and Dennis LLP in Wellesley, Massachusetts. She can be contacted at [email protected]