While other children eagerly anticipate family celebrations and holiday gifts, those being raised by parents in two homes face the holiday season with some trepidation. Will the parents agree on the holiday schedule? Will the transitions between homes go smoothly, or will they be occasions for embarrassing or frightening scenes? Perhaps most important, will your children feel permission to enjoy themselves with the other parent? Or will they feel like the third-grader whose father would not allow any toys that came from Mom to enter his home?
If you want your children to be among those who look forward to the pleasures of holiday celebrations, and not among those who wish they could fast forward past the season, follow these five steps.
1. Make holiday plans now and let your children know what to expect. The biggest source of anxiety and tension is uncertainty regarding the holiday schedule. The parents and the children need to know exactly when the children will be in each home. Once this is determined, often in your divorce decree or court orders, stick to the plan. Disorganized parents, and those who manipulate the holiday schedule in order to get more time than allotted or to interfere with the other parent’s plans, add to children’s stress.
2. Make transitions between homes easier for your children. Have their bags packed and help them anticipate having a good time. Reassure them that although you will miss them, you will do fine and want them to enjoy themselves with their other parent. It is not your child’s job to meet your emotional needs. If you and your ex cannot be civil to each other when delivering the children, let the exchange take place at a neutral site, such as a relative’s home, where both parents do not have to be present at the same time.
3. Encourage relatives to stay focused on the children. If there are step-siblings and half-siblings in the picture, help grandparents understand the importance of making all the children feel included. Don’t tolerate any relatives bad-mouthing your ex. Your children should not have to listen to people they respect putting down their other parent.
4. Have reasonable expectations. If you compare your holiday celebrations to the ones in movies or to your romanticized memories of your childhood, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. The holidays can be a very special time for the entire family even when things are not perfect – and they never are.
5. Be flexible and compromise. It is usually best to follow the pre-determined holiday schedule. But in some cases being rigid can deprive your children of important experiences. For instance, if your former in-laws are visiting from far away, agree to accommodate a schedule change to allow your children to see their grandparents.
Years from now, when your adult children reminisce about past holidays, will they resent you for spoiling their joy? Or will they be proud that their parents loved them enough to set aside differences and join forces to create the holiday spirit? It is up to you.