Parental separation or divorce can be traumatic for children and parents, even when it's the most reasonable solution. Navigating the waters can be just as difficult for the adults involved. Add holiday obligations, expectations, and a newly defined "togetherness" (or lack thereof) to the picture, and the everyday stress resulting from divorce can quickly swell to levels that provoke anxiety for all.
This is especially true for the kids, as they're often more affected and conflicted by such things as changes in routines and feelings of split loyalty. Their emotions of loss and sadness can increase during the holidays. For some children, this brew of emotional strife and tension can evoke feelings of depression, physical ailments, and create the desire to avoid holiday festivities altogether.
No good parent wants to impart stress, anxiety in the hearts and minds of the children, especially during the holiday season, which we expect to be a time of reunion, celebration, forgiveness, and hope. But often the adults find themselves lost or misguided. There are strategies to help facilitate a sense of calm, predictability, and even joy by way of some simple forethought and planning.
1. Put down the anger and discontent for the holidays.
Make it your goal and plan to achieve it. Get to therapy, yoga, meditation, church, support group, or wherever you find peace and support. Build yourself up before the holidays, so you are healthy.
2. Establish new traditions
Religious celebrations and traditions can be stressful holidays to divide, but maintaining some form of family tradition that will continue year after year can provide a sense of stability and predictability for children. Remember not to get territorial about the holidays and attach to memories of the past. Putting the kids first is essential in planning. Perhaps an annual plan such as this:
The kids spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with Dad and Christmas day, dinner, and New Year's Eve with Mom. Kids crave tradition, and parents need to compromise.
3. Be a good role model
Both Parents can model thoughtfulness, kindness, and gratitude with gift ideas for the other parent.
Take a day to have each child draw, paint, or write something special for Mom or Dad and add simple frames.
Paint a piece of pottery for Mom or Dad
Make a free Shutterfly.com family website.
Give each child an allowance for selecting something special at the store. Remember that it's the thought that counts!
4. Consider a tradition of joint gift-giving
Mom and Dad can both contribute to a gift. Wouldn't it be nice to present a united front of love and kindness? This comes in handy for big-ticket wish-list items. Parents can share ideas, planning, shopping, wrapping, and even the expense; everybody wins!
5. If you attempt a holiday together, be very careful.
Especially if the split is recent, heed the following:
*Understand that emotions are still raw, and kids are still adjusting to this huge life change.
*Avoid alcohol, which can fuel hostile or depressive feelings.
* Don't discuss difficult issues or topics with your ex, either in private or in front of the kids.
*Agree to keep all discussions within a "non-confrontational sphere" to avoid arguments or disputes.
*Be aware that sharing the holiday during a separation or divorce can add to the confusion and might lead kids down a path of false hopes about parents reuniting.
6. Show compassion.
There's usually one parent who is not handling the divorce well. Kids may consider that parent the "injured party." There is nothing wrong with showing your ex compassion and forgiveness during the holidays or any other time throughout the year. If you can't be married, at least you can be kind to one another, for the kids.
7. Always avoid "parentification," especially during the holidays. Parentification is a form of role reversal, in which a child inappropriately is placed in the role of meeting the emotional needs of a parent. Don't confide in your child about the divorce or other life stressors as if they were a friend or other adult. Don't share with your child that you are depressed because Mommy left you. You have to put on a strong front and protect your children at all costs from any additional stress. Going through a divorce is hard. Get a good therapist or talk to a good friend. Children should never find themselves in the middle of adult business and emotions.
8. Don't discuss financial issues with children.
"I couldn't buy you that x-box this year, son, because I have to pay Mom alimony, and I'm broke." Kids should not be privy to what a parent pays for child support, alimony, or gifts. Such comments are a lame attempt at trying to make a child pick sides. This behavior is called parental alienation, and it is a form of child abuse.
9. Never participate in parent alienation!
Parent Alienation is a group of behaviors that are damaging to children's mental and emotional well-being and can interfere with a child/parent relationship. It is also considered a form of child abuse in most states. These behaviors, whether verbal or non-verbal, are highly manipulative and cause harm to children. The child can be lead to believe that a perfectly loving parent is the cause of all his or her problems. The following rules apply to all parents, stepparents and extended family:
❤️ Never speak an ill word about the other parent.
❤️ Don't speak to your lawyer on the phone within earshot of your children.
❤️ Don't share with your child any of the details of your divorce. Even if you've been hurt, cheated on, lied to, abandoned, etc. Don't risk the chance that your child will develop ill will toward the other parent because of you. Kids need to be able to love both parents. Participating in this type of behavior can place the kids in the middle. It can cause hatred of the other parent and ruin the potential for relationship growth and improvement. Parent Alienation can eventually lead to a decline in the mental health and wellness of the entire family.
❤️ Follow that golden rule here! If you don't have something nice to say, keep it to yourself. Your children will thank you for this down the road. Protect your child’s heart!
(*Please note these ideas and tips do not apply to any situations of abuse or addiction. Family safety is the essential concern of all.)
For more information, please visit me at
www.kimberlykingbooks.com and order a signed copy of, When Your Parents Divorce: A kid-to-kid guide to dealing with divorce.
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