For families that have the additional challenge of recent divorce or separation, the first holiday season can be very difficult to navigate—there can, and probably will be, significant differences from what the children, and their parents, are used to (especially if the holidays are not celebrated together).
So what can parents do? It will help to approach the holidays from your role as parents (rather than as former spouses) and explore the following question:
“How can we truly give our children peace and love for the holidays?”
Part of ensuring that children experience ease around the holidays is to provide information and structure as opposed to a no-win situation that results from asking them to choose between their parents.
For example, families with older children will often ask the child, “Who do you want to be with for the holidays?” This question poses an inherent challenge for the child. Many children (even adult children), would prefer to be provided with information about what Mom’s plans are and what Dad’s plans are. Adult children can then make a decision about where to go and when.
With younger children, it is equally important not to impose a choice between parents. To avoid this, during the divorce process, parents can determine the structure for the child’s activities for each holiday. (“For Thanksgiving, you’re going to go with Mom this year and with the other parent next year, etc.”). Sometimes it’s hard to predict what post-divorce life is going to look like years in advance, so it helps to remain open and flexible to negotiate changes when necessary.
By structuring the holidays the child can feel that there is not uncertainty and hostility.
In addition to scheduling, parents can also coordinate gift giving by communicating with one another in advance, or jointly giving larger presents. This type of coordination communicates cooperation, gratitude, and peace to the children—rather than conflict. Parents can teach their children invaluable lessons about giving by helping their children to make or choose a gift for their other parent.
Giving peace also means not being in conflict with each other about how the holidays will be celebrated. Children often know when their parents are at odds. They feel the tension and see the look on your face when there is any conflict—and they often feel that they are at the center of it.
Holidays can become hostile and conflictual unless parents consciously and deliberately make choices that result in peaceful and loving interactions and experiences.
Contact us today and we can help you plan your holidays.
My Divorce Recovery
Jeffrey Zimmerman, Ph.D., ABPP
Lauren Behrman, Ph.D.