While the holidays are intended to be merry and bright, they pose a sleighful of problems for divorced parents sharing custody of their kids. Divorced moms and dads must communicate about delicate issues, such as schedules, travel plans and gifts. Negotiations are frequently complicated by the presence of remarriages and added stepsiblings. The situation is right for tempers to flare hotter than a burning Yule log and for stress levels to soar higher than the star in the East.
Children suffer, as well. They’re torn between anticipation of Santa’s arrival and a sense of dread about their annual holiday drama.
Fortunately, there’s plenty each parent can do to keep angst to a bare minimum and make this time joyful for all involved. Here’s how:
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Regardless of what has transpired between you and your ex, now is the time to be friendly and get along. Avoid becoming angry or accusatory. Never bring up issues from the past. Don’t overreact to anything your ex says or does. Instead, put a smile on your face for the sake of the kids. Your efforts will make things run much more smoothly.
Create a workable parenting schedule for the holidays. Decide early who gets the kids on which days, taking into account their needs as well as yours. Allow each parent ample time to enjoy the children. And make sure the kids can play with friends and open presents in their pajamas.
Stick to your end of the bargain. Your promptness sends an invaluable message, “I’m here for you. You can always depend on me.”
Leave current lovers at home
Don’t include your new beau in your holiday plans with the kids. Your offspring deserve your undivided attention.
Coordinate gifts with your ex
Children don’t need two Kinects. They need folks who’ve jointly thought about their gifts and who have discussed who gives which items to whom.
Don’t make up for your absence by heaping lavish gifts on the children
Parents who have minimal contact with their kids are sometimes tempted to overcompensate by giving them costly and elaborate presents. Children might at first seem pleased. But deep down they still miss that no-show parent. It’s far better to spend more time with your tots and be reasonable about what you give them for Christmas.
Let go of gift disagreements
You and your ex aren’t going to agree on every present. If you have a concern, do your best to calmly express your opinion. If your ex still isn’t swayed, drop the issue. You ultimately have no control over what happens.
Allow kids to communicate with your ex
If you have the children during the holidays, make sure they can contact the absent parent. Assist very young children in dialing the telephone or holding the receiver to talk with Mom or Dad. Avoid scheduling exciting or noisy activities during the absent parent’s designated call time.
Encourage your children’s relationship with your ex
Boys and girls need to love both their folks. You can facilitate the process by speaking pleasantly about the other parent, helping kids make or purchase appropriate gifts for that person and supporting their time together.
Be in contact with your children
Just because you don’t have the children on Christmas doesn’t mean you can’t be in touch. Call, e-mail and text them, letting them know they’re front and center in your thoughts.
Be creative in your celebrations
Devise your own way to have non-Christmas together. Or designate a completely different date to revel in your family fun.
Take care of yourself
It’s hard to be without your children at the holidays. But don’t sit crying in your wassail. Seek friends or relatives who have room at their table. Plan a trip to an exotic destination. Donate your time to a worthy cause. You’ll re-define the season in a pleasant and productive way, meanwhile freeing your youngsters of any guilt they might harbor about your well-being.
Accept the presence of your new family constellation
Stop wishing things were different. Embrace life as it is. You’ll rid yourself of useless bitterness and gain a newfound tolerance.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com