Every parent should want to raise their children to lead happy, healthy lives as productive members of society. If possible, divorcing parents want their children to be free of the stress and strife caused by breakup of the family. Unfortunately, the holiday season has the potential to create hostility, turmoil, chaos, and stress. This can cause children to hate the approach of holidays that once heralded joy and celebration. Parents who are separated or divorced need to plan the holidays in a way that is designed to reduce the stress on the children.
Adults, even adults who are not divorced, experience stress around the holidays. We spend more money, plan events, and eat too much. Sometimes, this stress and tension causes people to take their anxiety out on the people we live with. It is important to understand the extra pressures at this time and that everybody suffers from the holiday season.
During the holiday season, children often dwell on the breakup of the family. This is natural as holidays are filled with family traditions and reminiscing on holidays past. Children are encouraged by media that if they are good, their wishes will be granted. There are even television shows where children wish for their parents to reconcile and, in TV fashion, they get their wish. In real life, the parents don’t magically reconcile. Children who wish for this miracle are bound to be disappointed. Instead of a reunified family, children have to adjust to a visitation schedule where the holidays are divided between two sets of parents and their extended families. Children need help from their parents and families to adjust to the new reality. The parents should understand the children if the children are sad or depressed about the holidays. Discussion and understanding may help the children adjust to the breakup of their parents.
Parents should think about holiday traditions. Some traditions may be painful for the children as they remind the children of what has been lost. Other traditions need to be followed as the children continue to enjoy the events. Another choice is to create new traditions. If each household develops different traditions, the children can look forward to time with each parent.
Each holiday lasts for a limited time. If the holiday is to be split between the parents, that means that each parent should have half a holiday with the children. As such, holiday visitation can become an annual negotiation between the parents.
Children can either dread the shortened holiday time or rejoice with two holiday celebrations. The result can be an attempt by each parent to indulge the children with excessive toys. Parents may feel guilty about the breakup or attempt to bribe their children to win their affection. Such actions are harmful to both parents and children. Children will learn to exploit the parents and make the holidays an annual problem instead of an annual celebration. Sometimes, parents will each buy the same gifts for the children as there is no attempt to cooperate. A better approach is for the parents to cooperate. They should develop a plan for the holiday that is fair and allows annual switching of time. If possible, the parents should take the child’s wish list for toys and discuss dividing the toys or buying toys that are similar but not identical.
Parents should remember that while they are no longer married to each other, they will always be parents of these children. Both parents will want to spend time with their children on the holidays for the rest of their lives. When the children are adults, they shouldn’t have to choose which parent they will choose for the holidays each year. Hopefully, the children will be comfortable inviting both parents to share their home for the celebration. Parents who demonstrate an ability to cooperate when the children are young are more likely to enjoy the holidays with the children in the future.
Alan Pransky has a general practice law office in Dedham, MA. His practice focuses on family law, real estate law, and civil and criminal trials. He has a JD from Syracuse University College of Law and has a BA from the University of Massachusetts. He has published on his web site answers to questions on divorce, real estate, and abuse. He maintains a blog at http://massfamilylawblog.blogspot.com/ and is also a member of the LawGuru Attorney Network.