Children of divorced parents often find the holidays the most trying time of the year. There are two houses to visit, stepfamilies to navigate, and the ever-present tension between their formerly married parents.
With holidays upon us, divorced parents should know they can do much to alleviate the stress, says family law expert Mary Jo McCurley.
“Regardless of their family situation, children still love the holidays,” McCurley says. “Everything from deciding what they’re going to be on Halloween to opening presents at Christmas or Hanukkah, all these things are magical for kids. And divorced parents shouldn’t detract from that magic simply because they aren’t living together anymore.”
In particular, parents who have relocated since their divorce need to be sensitive to the needs of their children. McCurley offers these tips for divorced parents:
• Let your children know their visitation schedule in advance. They should know well ahead of time, for example, if they’re going to be leaving for their other parent’s house on Christmas eve, so that they can be emotionally prepared for the change.
• Don’t be afraid to start new traditions if the old ones either conflict with your children seeing both parents or are too cumbersome for a single spouse to carry out.
• Both parents should work to simplify their respective family obligations. Children who are overscheduled can feel pulled in different directions, increasing the stress on both the children and the parents.
• Accommodate your former spouse’s visitation more than usual. Help your child shop for your ex, and encourage your child to be excited about seeing his or her other parent. Don’t let on that you’re feeling down or anxious about being alone.
• Don’t compete with your former spouse in gift-giving. Not only could it leave you in debt after the holidays, but it also overindulges your child and establishes a bad precedent.
• Put your children’s feelings before your own – now more than any other time of the year.
• Be flexible with your plans, and be prepared for a certain amount of letdown. Holiday blues are inevitable, even for those not going through a divorce. If necessary, lean on family and friends, but not your children, for help.
Try to put yourself in your children’s shoes, McCurley advises. “As adults, we have to make sure we do what we can to make the holidays special for our kids.”