Divorce or separation can be rough for families with children, but it can be especially difficult during the holiday season. What should be a time of joy and holiday cheer, can be challenging and stressful for divorced or separated parents and their kids. Chicago attorneys, Michael Ian Bender and Molly E. Caesar have seen these struggles first-hand and have some important advice to share.
“No matter what, the children must always come first,” says Bender, author of the book, Protecting Children: Bettering the World One Child at a Time. “It may not be easy, and emotions can be high during this time of year, but parents need to find a way to put their kids’ happiness above their own.”
“The adults need to act like adults and do what is best for the children,” adds Caesar. “We know it is easier said than done and it can be painful to be away from the children, but with open communication and some advanced planning, things can work out so everyone can enjoy the holidays and find peace.
So, what can divorced or separated parents do to keep the holiday season cheery and bright for their kids?
Focus on the Best Interest of the Child
Ask yourself if you are acting in the best interest of the child. Sometimes it can be tempting to do something that will upset or hurt the other parent, but it is important to work together for the benefit of the kids. Compromise is key.
The best way to make sure that everything runs smoothly during the holidays is to plan ahead. With a divorce or separation, the holidays will no longer be how they once were. Everyone will need to adjust. But it is up to the parents to lead the way and ensure that the holidays are positive and memorable for their kids. Caesar and Bender suggests dividing the holidays with one parent having the kids for Christmas Eve, for example, and the other having them for Christmas Day, then switching the following year. Remember that the children just want to spend time with each parent to celebrate, they do not care about which specific day that occurs. Regardless of the schedule chosen, it is important for the parents to work together and plan ahead so that the holidays can be enjoyed with ease on all ends.
Keep the Kids in the Loop
If the children are old enough to understand what is happening, it is important to keep them in the loop for holiday plans. Discuss the holiday plans with them. Get their feedback and listen to what they have to say and pay attention to their wants and needs. What you think they may be thinking, may not be the case.
Make New Memories
Most children (and many adults!) have a difficult time letting go of holiday traditions, so talk to the other parent (and your kids) to come up with new activities that the children can do with each of you. This will help to normalize the transition and give the children something to look forward to. There is always room to form new traditions while maintaining a positive mindset.
Avoid Gifting Competitions
A gifting competition is simply a no-win. Talk to the other parent about holiday gifts and create a budget that you can both live with. Maybe it makes sense to chip in and let the child know that the gifts are from both parents. There’s no reason to “one-up” each other. Children are smart and will pick up on the idea that you are trying to “out-gift” each other, causing more tension and frustration at the end of the day.
Think About Giving
Going through a divorce or breakup can be sad and difficult, but it may help to remember that the holiday season is about giving and spreading joy. Consider volunteering with the kids at a soup kitchen or at a homeless shelter as a way to bond and give back.
Find the Joy
Yes, the holidays will be different without the entire family together, but it is possible for divorced and separated parents to find joy for themselves and their kids. Give yourself the freedom to enjoy the holiday season. Happiness can be contagious, so finding what makes you smile will trickle down to your kids. If they see you happy, then, hopefully, they will be too!