Being Child-Focused During the Holidays in Divorced/Separated Families

The holidays can be a difficult time for families, especially when there are multiple households for children to be part of. It is important for parents to put themselves in their children's shoes to think about what their kid is experiencing over the holiday season. Here are a few tips to consider to help make the holidays the best for the child(ren).

Tip #1: Instead of thinking about "time" think about the child's experience.

Parents are usually very particular about who gets the kids over the holidays and make it "fair" between the parents. However, this can result in a negative experience for the children. For example, sometimes children have to leave a Christmas party in the middle of it to get to the other parents' house "on time" or they are used to a particular tradition on Christmas Eve but now have to switch off every other year over Christmas. This sometimes is what needs to happen when households are divided into two, but parents should work on making it the best for the child and what they experience during their holiday time. Keep in mind, children are not going to remember the number of hours they were at each household, but they will remember the happy memories and traditions that are made.

Tip #2: Consider who else the child visits over the holidays.

There are other people that can play a significant role in your child's life and are important for their development and social support. Maybe you have had difficulty with your child's other parent, but there are other people that your child loves to spend time with such as grandparents, family friends, extended family members, and other adults and kids. Be sure to make this part of the parenting plan over the holidays so your child can visit their loved ones.

Tip #3: Do make a thoughtful plan and stick to it.

It is important for parents to make a plan ahead of time so both parents have the same expectations about what is happening. This will ease tension, allow you to make plans with family and friends, and avoid areas of conflict. When there is no gray area, there is little room for misinterpretations and children to be caught in conflict.

Tip #4: Be considerate and timely to avoid conflict.

If there are agreements that are made over the holiday time, stick to them. This will help to avoid conflict and minimize negativity your child experiences. You may not be able to control the other parent's compliance with the schedule, but you can control yours and hold up your end of the agreement for the sake of your child. Staying positive about transitions between households and the parenting time while your child is at the other parents' house is important for your child's holiday experience.

Tip #5: Avoid talking with others about the family separation in front of the children.

Sometimes, extended family or friends you haven't seen in a while will start conversations about things that children shouldn't hear. Maybe they just heard about the divorce, but this is the first time you have seen them since it happened or they are asking questions about your ex-partner. Avoid these conversations in front of your children. Be ready with things to say to discuss the topic at a later time such as, "Things are fine, we're focusing on having a good time over the holidays." or "Do you mind if we talk later this week about it? I can give you a call sometime on Tuesday." This will keep your children from feeling uncomfortable, keep children out of adult matters, and allow for you to enjoy the holiday time as well.

In summary, think about what your children are experiencing and minimize areas for conflict. As stated, it can be hard to have cooperation from the other co-parent, but there are ways to be proactive and create a plan so conflict does not arise over the holiday time.

- Erin Guyette, MS, LAMFT