helping your children of divorce during the Christmas holiday

How has your child’s routine changed since the divorce?

If your divorce or separation is recent, this may be the first Christmas your children have faced since their lives were disrupted.  Keep in mind how much the holiday season may amplify those changes in routine and schedule.  If you have already worked out your Parenting Plan, the question of who is spending time where has already been addressed, but the complicated feelings that accompany it have not been worked through yet.  If your holiday schedule has not been specified in a court-approved Parenting Plan, your family may be trying to negotiate the holiday parenting time, which can create many hurt feelings in both you and your ex, but also your children.  Try to remember that this isn’t solely about what you or your ex want, it needs to be about what is best for the children at this scary and new time in their lives.

You may want to minimize the changes to their routine or traditions in order to help with the transition.  But don’t just go through the motions or try to recreate old traditions that can only highlight the absence of the other parent.  If your tradition as a family unit was to search out and cut down the perfect Christmas tree on the weekend after Thanksgiving, repeating this without the other parent is only going to make your children feel guilty for continuing the happy family traditions without Mom or Dad.  While you don’t want to let go of all of your traditions with your children, do your best to update them or create new memories and traditions that reflect the new situation for your family.

Exchanges and transitions from one home to another will create chaos in your child’s life.  Focus on the meaningful parts of the holidays to provide a common theme throughout the time. Did the holidays used to involve a vacation, ski trip, trip out of state to visit extended family, or other big event that is no longer possible because of the divorce or split schedule?  Acknowledge that your children are also mourning the loss of those types of events.

What kind of feelings will your kids be experiencing this Christmas?

Your children are sure to go through periods of sadness, anger, and even guilt during the holiday season.  Even if divorce wasn’t recent, holidays shine a spotlight on what is missing or has changed in a child’s life, and makes children long for an intact family or the way things used to be.  Communicate open and honestly with your children about their emotions during the season.  Make sure that they understand you acknowledge their feelings and that it’s okay to feel them.

Communicate honestly with your child, but keep your own emotions in check.  It is not your child’s responsibility to comfort you, entertain you, or fill the emotional gap left by a former partner.  Particularly if you are the parent who doesn’t have parenting time over the holiday this year, make sure that your children don’t feel responsible for your sadness or guilty about you being “left out” of their plans with the other parent.  Teenagers and adult children of divorced parents often experience this burden the most, sacrificing their own time with friends or their own plans to provide emotional support to a single parent home alone on New Years Eve, for example.

Is gift-giving a competition with your ex?

Resist the urge to overspend on extravagant Christmas gifts to “win” the imaginary contest with your ex for your children’s affections.  Your children will remember the memories that you made and the new traditions that you forged.  Competitive gift-giving will only create escalated tensions and undo the hard work you’ve done to establish a new normal for your children since your breakup.

Also, don’t buy things for your child that you know the other parent does not allow the child to have.  In addition to being antagonistic to your ex, your are setting up your child to immediately lose access to a new toy they are excited to have, to feel guilt or feel like they have to choose between which parent to obey.

Your young child may need assistance in shopping or making gifts for her other parent.  If you help the kid shop for the other parent, and you should, make it meaningful and not passive aggressive.  Encourage handmade gifts – again stressing the meaning and love of the holiday season, not competition for a parent’s affection.

What are your true motives for spending holiday time with your ex?

Newly separated or divorced parents often flirt with the idea of spending the holidays together “for the sake of the children.”  If you and your ex are thinking about having joint holidays, please take time to truly consider your motivations for doing so.

  • Are you showing off your new way of life?  Trying to demonstrate how “over” your ex you are?
  • Are you harboring secret hopes that happy family time together will make your ex want to reconcile?
  • Is your decision to celebrate a holiday together a sustainable decision?  Will you make the same decision in years to come when one or both of you has remarried?  If not, are you just delaying the onset of separate Christmas celebrations and confusing your children?

Unless you’ve had an exceptionally amicable divorce and have a phenomenal friendship with your ex, it’s usually best to accept the reality of your divorce and help your children do the same by establishing new routines and traditions with separate parenting time.

Are grandparents in competition too?

At Christmas time, remember that Grandparents were parents first.  Your parents may be fiercely protective, harbor strong negative feelings about your divorce, or hold grudges against your child’s other parent or other extended family as a result of the conflict that led to your separation and divorce.  Have a blunt conversation with your parents to ensure that they are not creating conflict by competing for your children’s time or attention, competing through gift-giving, or otherwise creating chaos in your child’s emotional well-being out of defensiveness for you, their child who has been hurt by divorce.  Make sure that all grandparents are all also focused on what’s best for the child – any advice given here also applies to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other extended family and friends who will be part of the child’s Christmas celebration.

Holiday Parenting Time and Christmas Visitation

Dust off your Parenting Plan and review it as we head towards the holidays.  Make sure you are certain of exchange times and locations and how they may change for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the New Years, or review the split of your child’s winter school break. You can avoid a lot of conflict by making sure that you are following your Parenting Plan agreement.  If your holiday parenting schedule is contributing to your family’s stress this Christmas, or you have not established a formal Parenting Plan, you can schedule a free consultation with Rockford family law lawyer Zachary Townsend today.  Attorney Townsend and his experienced team at Pro Legal Care LLC will help you create a roadmap for your family to follow into the future.