The holiday season is always difficult for divorced parents and their children. Parents have to let go of old grudges and bad memories so that they can work together and make the season special for the kids, who may be feeling sad at the realization that their family is now divided. Young children can be especially affected by the post-divorce holidays because routine makes them feel safe, and this year they are facing unfamiliar new traditions.
Here are some ways that you and your spouse can work together to make the upcoming holidays as happy and stress-free as possible for the kids and, by extension, for yourselves.
Create new holiday traditions
Instead of dwelling on how you will no longer take a Christmas family vacation to the Catskills, remind yourself that there are other enjoyable activities you can do with the kids. Creating new holiday memories can be fun, engaging, and just what you need to sustain a strong and positive relationship with the children.
Here are some ideas:
- Going to a holiday-themed concert or play
- Volunteering at a soup kitchen
- Visiting family friends
When holiday visitation schedules are being negotiated, it’s important to be as flexible as possible. The children may already feel unsettled and torn between their parents’ separate worlds, and conflict with your former spouse over an issue that could be settled easily only adds to the stress.
Don’t put the kids in the middle
No matter how angry you are at your former spouse, never put the kids in the middle by making them act as a messenger or asking them questions about what they see and do while with their other parent. This will make them feel conflicted, which is unfair to them.
Coordinate gifts with your former spouse
Many divorced parents try to win their child’s affection and loyalty by giving him or her the most expensive presents—this is another unwise move that could cause a child to feel more conflicted than grateful. Reach out to your former spouse and come to an agreement about spending limits, number of gifts, and even certain presents that are off-limits, such as age-inappropriate electronics. Establishing a reasonable plan can take competition out of the equation.
If the children express sadness or regret about a divided family holiday season, then let them know that it is natural to feel this way and both their parents love them unconditionally. The same goes for your own feelings- by taking looking after yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally you model healthy coping behavior for the kids and put yourself in a better position to take care of them. It’s an outcome that may be one of the best gifts you can give them.