Divorced parents: How to survive the holidays
For most of us, the holiday season means happy times. However, for children of divorced parents, this time of year can be a real nightmare. To avoid putting your child in the middle of negotiations or unfriendly exchanges, and thus making the holidays synonymous with bad memories, follow this helpful advice to keep the magic in Christmas… and free of conflicts.
Stress and sadness
The holiday times bring with them joy but also their share of stress. We spend more money than usual, we don’t have enough time, we eat too much, we celebrate… in short it’s a time of year when we’re all on edge. In the case of families who are separated, the holidays can also create a lot of sadness. Even if relations between both parents are very good, there are always moments of nostalgia when everyone remembers the times when the family was together. If the parents don’t get along, the pain of separation can be worse. Don’t forget that if you feel sad, there’s a good change that your child is feeling it too.
Playing with time
Organizing your child’s schedule is always a challenge. Both parents need to understand that their child is being pulled between the demands of two families. There are more parties, more gifts, more desserts… fun, eh? Well, yes it can be – as long as it doesn’t become a competition.
And what about the gifts?
Showering your child with gifts to buy his affection won’t achieve anything. If possible, think about dividing your child’s wish list in two so that you don’t duplicate anything. If this isn’t possible, make sure you don’t criticize your ex for their choice of gifts. Also, your child will probably want to give his other parent a present; make sure to let him have the pleasure of doing so. The nicest gift you can give your child is to let him spend the holidays with the two people he loves the most.
Work it out ahead of time to avoid difficult choices
Agree ahead of time about the holiday schedule so that your child doesn’t have to make a choice between both his parents. For example, alternate between December 24 and 25. Or if you don’t live in the same city, choose between Christmas and New Year’s. Above all, remember that spending half the holidays on the bus or train is no fun for anyone.
If for some reason your child expresses a wish to spend a particular day during the holidays with one or the other of you, then give in to his request. But make sure the agreement is respected and understood by everyone in the family.
Respect your commitments. Be on time and don’t change your plans – that way, you’ll avoid any unnecessary frustration and discussions. And don’t prevent your child from being in touch with his other parent and give him the time to do so. If he is too young to write an email or make that long-distance call by himself, then help him do it.
Spending Christmas together?
According to Michèle Paquette, a nurse from the Psychiatry department at the MCH, spending Christmas together after separation can be a delicate situation and one that can give false hopes of reconciliation to children and often confuse them about their parents’ situation as a couple. For children who have a secret hope that their separated or divorced parents will get back together, seeing their parents together over the holidays may only feed that sense of hope.
Nonetheless, it’s a possibility that this will happen, for example, in the case of a big family reunion or gathering of friends where ex-spouses are invited. At that point you have to be very clear with your children. Make sure they understand that it doesn’t mean there’s going to be a reconciliation but that it’s more of an occasion where mom and dad are together because they will always be parents to their children.
All of this advice assumes a good relationship between both parents. But if that isn’t the case, try to be civil. The holidays are an important time for children and it’s therefore essential to keep the magic in the season for them.