The holidays can be a hectic time for any family. There is stress related to throwing the perfect party, associating with that challenging family member, and buying your child the perfect gift.
Divorcing parents may experience, in addition, scheduling dilemmas associated with having holiday celebrations in two different homes or new financial strains associated with financing two households and paying legal fees. Others may be dealing with feelings of abandonment or anger toward a spouse. Your child may be confused about the new routine, choosing sides, or dealing with feelings of loss of the family unit he or she once knew.
How can this season live up to its expectations and be filled with the laughter and love associated with this time of year? The best gifts cost less money than you may believe. Intentionally implementing the concepts below may result in you having a more meaningful holiday with your child than you would have otherwise expected in this difficult time:
7. BE POSITIVE: Your attitude affects your child. Your child looks to you to learn how to respond to various situations. Maintaining a positive outlook on your life will assist your child’s adoption of the same positive view of the future.
It is entirely correct to express sadness and frustration in the difficult moments. However, focus upon the good aspects of your current circumstance instead of dwelling on the negative. This outlook will bring a positive vibe into your home and set the stage for a happier holiday for everyone.
6. REASSURE YOUR CHILD: Tell your child that you love him or her and that you will be there through life’s ups and downs. A child may blame himself or herself for the divorce. Remind your child that he or she is not at fault.
Reassuring your child will both help your child process what is going on, as well as assist the child in coping with the changes he or she is facing. You, in turn, will have the opportunity to have a more positive relationship and form a stronger bond with your child this season and beyond.
5. DEVELOP ROUTINES: Be proactive about making routines for you and your child. Consistency brings comfort to a child, especially one experiencing stress in his or her daily life. Your child is also more likely to behave well when your child knows the daily plan and what is expected of him or her.
Establish clear guidelines about your child’s behavior in the new household you are running. It may be tempting to think your response to the stresses of the divorce should be to spoil your child. However, this will not serve your child well, nor you. Your child needs limits to assist and support his or her healthy development.
4. MAINTAIN NORMALCY: As much as possible, keep alive the traditions that brought you and your child joy before the divorce. Allow your child to see his or her old, good friends even if you have moved away, or allow your child to stay enrolled in the same activities in which he or she enjoyed participating. The comfort the old routine will provide your child may surprise you.
3. KEEP YOUR PROMISES: Your child develops trust in you when you deliver on your promises. When you say you will be somewhere or do something, actually be there or do it. It may be tempting to say to your child that you will do something even when you know you cannot. However, what actually hurts your relationship with your child most is not following through with your promises.
If you are too busy or have to cancel a plan made with your child, share this with him or her and then tell your child when you are free to do something together. This will give your child something to look forward to. It will also release you from feeling guilty about being busy this holiday season and in the New Year. Set realistic expectations.
2. COMMUNICATE HONESTLY: Divorce will almost certainly cause your child to ask you difficult questions about the past and future. It is proper to talk about tough issues with your child.1 Skirting the questions will only instill uncertainly, fear, and later, resentment in your child.
Being honest with your child does not hurt him or her. Providing your child with age-appropriate information allows your child to become more independent, freeing you to have more time to take care of yourself.
1. GIVE OF YOUR TIME: It can be tempting to think money – or that perfect gift – can substitute for love, affection, and time spent with your child. It is not true. It is important to spend quality time with your child, especially during a divorce.
You may be adjusting to a shared custody schedule, which reduces the time you have with your child. You may feel busier than normal navigating new responsibilities after separating from your spouse. Remember that nothing can substitute for you spending time investing in your child. Be intentional about setting aside time to be fully devoted to him or her.
Even if your time is limited, spend as much time as you can with your child. A short trip to the park or some other place your child enjoys may be just what your child would enjoy with you, and more meaningful than a gift or expensive outing.
The time you take to get to know what really brings joy to your child – the time you take wholly devoted to your child’s well-being and development – may turn out to be the true treasure you and your child discover this holiday season.
1 For more information about how to talk to your child about divorce, including the specific words to answer your child’s most difficult questions about the divorce process, see American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, What Should We Tell the Children? A Parent’s Guide for Talking About Separation and Divorce (2009). This literature may be purchased at http://www.aaml.org/library/publications/what-should-we-tell-children.