We recently posted an article called Holidays and Divorce Decisions which spoke to some of the thoughts, concerns, and other issues that come with an imminent divorce before or after the holidays. It’s no surprise that January and February are tops in terms of divorce filings because many people don’t want to upset the holiday season with such personal trauma. Today, we turn our attention to helping the children during the holiday season after a divorce takes place.
The key to keeping their spirits up and the holidays a happy time is to focus on the children. It sounds simple enough, but the holiday periods which occur throughout the year are often the most contentious between high-conflict, divorced parents.
Holiday schedules are often rife with conflict, gift-giving becomes a popularity contest, and the children are pulled in every conceivable direction – all of them bad. The first order of business is to get a clearly defined parenting time schedule in your child custody order or agreement. Well detailed, with exchange dates, times, and locations will minimize the opportunities for post-divorce conflict.
We also recommend not doing exchanges directly on the holiday date. We strongly suggest that alternating holidays where the children can spend the entire day with one parent one year and the other parent the next are best. In those cases, make provisions for a lengthy holiday phone call and exchange love and good wishes. Establish consistency for the children and permit them to have a holiday unencumbered by packing and traveling between homes. The parent going without in any given year should prepare to celebrate at the next available child custody period.
In keeping with the suggestion that the holidays not turn into a scene out of an as yet, non-existent “Gift Wars” reality television show, shift your focus on creating memories. I believe I recently read a study that showed that the length of time children actually spend playing with all of the toys they receive during the holidays – was a mere 15-minutes! Unfortunately, I can’t put my finger on the study, but thinking back to my own childhood, it’s hard to remember the gifts I got every year. Memories? I remember when my parents took the family camping. I remember when we traipsed through the holiday decorations in a special town close by. I remember driving throughout many neighborhoods admiring the very hard work of people who creating absolutely stunning holiday displays. Even today, I still go back to those same neighborhoods with my own children to admire such work. Discovering new displays is exciting, too. After a divorce, the best thing you could do is create memories and do so by reinforcing family, relationships, good friends, fellowship, and celebrating religiously no matter your denomination if you worship. If you don’t – the rest of it remains high on the list of holiday ideas that will slowly diminish any fears your children may have that families aren’t inclined to stay together and maybe relationships are meant to be break. Create memories with your family. They will last long after the toys and gadgetry have made their way to a donation bin or the scrap heap.
Follow your children’s desire to buy or create a gift for your ex-wife or ex-husband. It matters not what your feelings are for your ex. Don’t destroy the level of love and care your children have for their other parent. Even if your ill-feelings toward them means that you won’t spend one red-cent for a gift for them on behalf of your children – if they get an allowance, let them pick and choose within a budget. Better still, there are an unlimited number of opportunities via crafting, creativity, and imagination that will work just fine, cost nothing, and help foster a healthy relationship between them and the other parent after a divorce.
Cultivate a spirit of giving and selflessness in your children. One wonderfully successful endeavor we’ve done for many years now is having the children go through their toys, pick out the ones that they rarely used (or used for the previously described 15 minutes since the previous year) and require them (yes, require them) to offer them to the less fortunate via donation. No broken toys allowed! This also gives you a teaching moment, a discussion opportunity, to remind them about just how wonderful their live is compared to others, and let them know it’s only going to get even better if they continue to work at it positively. Giving unto others certainly starts them down that path.
Keep in mind that the children’s dreams, hopes, and security are shattered in the aftermath of a divorce. Future health and wellness; mentally, physically, even spiritually – comes with hard work and proper focus on the part of both parents. It also is best accomplished via shared parenting when logistically possible and there are no provable issues regarding parental fitness. Even when the feeling associated with a protracted divorce and child custody battle linger, it’s up to you to set it aside and focus appropriately on rebuilding your children’s trust and confidence. It’s guaranteed to give them best possible chance for a healthy relationship when they grow up into fine adults.