We all know the holiday season is fraught with stress, overwhelm and pressure for parents. But we are not alone. For children facing their parents’ divorce or who are experiencing their first holiday season post-divorce, this can be an especially tough time of year. So I reach out to all parents and extended family members, who want to protect children caught in the consequences of a divorce, to be especially mindful and compassionate during the weeks ahead.
It doesn’t take much to give a child or a teen a joyous occasion spending time with you. You don’t need expensive gifts or trips to exotic places. Doing things together are what count most. Sledding, ice skating, baking, creating crafts, watching a movie, visiting a children’s museum, taking a short railroad trip, building a snowman, making a family video, adopting a pet from a local shelter, volunteering to wrap gifts for the needy, these are all experiences that create positive memories of your warmth and care.
For children coping with divorce and its aftermath, our challenge as parents is to create new traditions and activities that can replace the memories of family holidays in the past.
Here are some suggestions for helping your children through the holiday season in the best possible spirits:
Talk to your children about the holidays. Listen, rather than lecture, and let them vent about their feelings, regrets and frustrations. Acknowledge what they are expressing to you and be understanding. Be aware that some children will hold their feelings in to protect you. Reassure them that it’s okay to talk about their sadness as well as apprehension about what they will experience this year.
Remind your children that what they are feeling is natural and normal. Be there for them with reassurance and hugs. Also, let them know that some activities will still be part of their holiday celebrations, so they understand that much of life continues in the same way, despite the divorce.
Model Responsible Behavior With Your Ex:
Studies show that children whose divorced parents get along with one another adapt much more easily to the divorce. So talk to your ex about giving your kids a happy holiday season in every possible way. If you can both spend some family time together with the children, without discord, they will appreciate your efforts. If you can’t, at least strive to make the drop-off experience peaceful and harmonious. Never bad-mouth your ex to the children, make them your messenger or have them be a spy for you at their other parent’s home. Model your best, most respectful and mature interactions with your ex in front of your children so they can enjoy their childhood, especially at this time of year.
Start Creating Wonderful New Memories:
This year will lay the foundation for many holidays to come. So think about new ways to celebrate, new places to visit, new foods to prepare. By creating a fresh set of traditions, you will give your children something to look forward to at every holiday. By replacing old memories with the new, you can make the holidays special again for them. And if they do the same in their other parent’s home, they can enjoy an even fuller experience of celebrating the holidays.
By acknowledging your children’s feelings with compassion while offering them new options for keeping the holidays special, you are giving your children a valuable gift: the love and support they need to overcome the challenges of being a child of divorce.