During one of his crazy "reports," Saturday Night Live's character Stefon once joked that a club featured a doorman who high-fived children of divorce. While meant as just one of many bizarre things that the imaginary club contained, I think we all agree that children of divorce could often use a high-five, especially during the holiday season.
While the United States has definitely become more understanding and tolerant toward all kinds of families, the holiday season still often evokes images of traditional families opening presents on Christmas morning or enjoying big dinners together. But the reality is that many children of divorce will not experience such ideal scenes—and your children often get hurt feelings about it that they may not share with you.
When planning out your holiday season, you need to keep a few things in mind about your children if they're experiencing their first holiday season in the aftermath of a divorce:
The holidays may bring up happy memories from when you and your ex-spouse were still together.
Because movies, TV shows, and advertising will endlessly show happy traditional families during the holiday season, these images may evoke times when your children were smaller and enjoyed some of those more traditional family moments. Those memories may be painful for your children, and they may seem glum in a non-traditional family setting. If they want to talk about happy memories (even if they weren't happy for you), let them. If they seem unhappy during the holidays, happier memories may be weighing on them.
Your children will not appreciate the chaos that results from logistical arguments.
Who gets the kids? And when? You and your ex-spouse may get into custody arguments over the holidays or experience a lot of stress and passive-aggressiveness as you're forced to reluctantly limit your time with your children. However, remember that your kids will feel and sense your stress, negative energy, and anger—especially because if you are arguing over them, they will think it is their fault.. Make clear plans with your ex-spouse out of earshot of your children, then communicate those plans to your kids and follow through with them. The less chaos your children have to experience, the better.
Respect the wishes of your children.
It's easy to get what you want and feel justified about it. For example, you might be overjoyed if you're the one who "gets" your kids on the magical Christmas morning. But...what if it's not what your kids want? For example, your kids may want to be at your ex-spouse's house on Christmas morning because it feels more comfortable and brings back good memories. A "victory" to you getting your kids on Christmas morning may not be their wish. Talk to them first about what they want, and try to fulfill their wishes as best as you can, even if it's not what you want. Put their emotional needs ahead of your own.
Don't think your children won't notice everything.
So maybe you're okay with your new life or feeling blasé about your ex-spouse's life. The holidays now include visiting at different houses with a variety of parents, stepparents, boyfriends, girlfriends, different families on different sides, etc. You might just roll with things, but your children might not be comfortable with all of these strange people and situations. Be careful about new significant others, new family groups, and the barrage of different people and places that your kids will experience. Your kids may be okay with it, but try to sense if they're uncomfortable and talk about any new situations with them.
Celebrating twice won't hurt.
You might be stuck in your ways too by thinking that your children only have one morning to open presents, one special Christmas dinner, or one Christmas Eve. Be creative, and don't hesitate to celebrate twice. Your children might be dealing with unhappiness and a sense of feeling left out of traditional families, so they will appreciate if they get two "Christmas mornings" to open presents, two Christmas dinners, or two "Christmas Eves." Over-celebrating won't hurt at all, and your kids are likely to appreciate both you and your ex-spouse for making an extra effort during the holidays.
Overall, make sure you stay attuned to your kids' feelings during the holidays. Whether they want to talk to you about their wishes or they communicate indirectly through their silence and body language, be attentive and listen to them. With enough mindfulness about what they are experiencing, you will be able to lessen any hurt and confusion and give them a truly happy holiday season. Call us for any help you might need over the holidays concerning your divorce or any family law issues.