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Dealing with divorce during the holiday season

Some ideas for managing special occasions.

Ten ways divorced parents can make the holidays better for their children - and themselves

Newsweek (USA)
15 December 2008

Kids First

'Tis the season to be collaborative.

Ten ways divorced parents can make the holidays better for their children - and themselves.

By Susanna Schrobsdorff | Newsweek Web Exclusive

Marriages end, and do so nearly half the time. But when spouses are also parents together, the connection doesn't end when the divorce papers are filed. There will still be graduations, marriages and a whole array of life-changing moments to share. And beyond the big events, there are the ordinary rituals: Mother's Day, Father's Day, the first day of school, Thanksgiving - all times when good parental cooperation and planning can help kids thrive post-divorce.

"You have to take the kid's perspective, not your own," advises Robert E. Emery, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Children, Families and the Law at the University of Virginia. Suppressing your natural emotional response can be a real challenge, acknowledges Emery. "In order to make it work, you have to end your relationship in a way that's emotionally unnatural. At the end of a romantic relationship, you'd normally say, 'I never want to see you again,' but when there are children, you have to contain that impulse. You have to put your emotions aside."

He offers these basic tips for divorced parents on how to make the holidays less stressful for everyone. (There's more on how to collaborate with an ex-spouse, and why it's so important, in Emery's book 'The Truth about Children and Divorce' (Viking/Penguin, 2004).

1. Remember that the holidays are not all about you.

Your children deserve their celebrations even if you feel cheated out of yours. Encourage them to have a blast with their other parent, even if you can't stand the prospect of being alone.
2. Get into the spirit of the season.

This is a time of giving, forgiving and fresh starts. Turn Scrooge's emotional lessons about holidays past, present and yet to come into New Year's resolutions about letting go of anger and treasuring all you have - despite all you have lost.

3. Another lesson from Scrooge: Love means far more than money.

Your time, attention and emotional presence are much more important to your children than lavish gifts. You may be short on money but you can be long on love.

4. The holidays are not a competition with your ex, or for your children.

Teach your children the true meaning of the holidays, not the meaninglessness of materialism.

5. Communicate and coordinate with your children's other parent.

A brief email, telephone message or conversation can insure that you don't duplicate presents or plan back-to-back feasts for stuffed and confused children. Ten minutes now can save days (or weeks) of fuming later. (If communicating with your ex takes more than 10 minutes, you probably are getting into issues better left for another time.)

6. Do the details.

Work out exactly where your children will be during what timesand when, where and how exchanges will take place. Your children will feel more secure, and all of you will avoid frustration and disappointment.

7. Celebrate with your children's other parent.

Consider celebrating part of the holidays together with your children's other parent, especially if your separation is fairly recent. Some people are shocked when divorced families celebrate holidays or birthdays together. Go ahead and shock them!
8. Set up a plan for next year now.

If you went through the agony of 11th-hour negotiations this year, set up a plan for next year now (or after New Year's). Everyone will be happier knowing what is coming, and avoiding conflict on the eve of the holidays.

9. Plan in advance with your extended family.

Work things out in advance with your own extended family, too, whether that means that you say no, spend the holidays a little differently than usual or ask for your family's understanding and help.

10. Establish traditions with your children.

Establish traditions with your children, even new ones that may be off-time or different from past rituals. Your kids may not remember the details of every year, but year-in, year-out traditions will stay with them for a lifetime.

Dealing with divorce during the holiday season

Yuma Sun
22 December 2008

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Dealing with divorce during the holiday season

By Melissa Gibson Behunin, Family Focus

During the holiday season, divorce can add a new level of chaos as many family members want to spend time with the children that make this season so magical. Often the stress and excitement of Christmas combined with the strain of split parenting schedules can bring out new behavior in both parents and children.

For children, holidays may bring up a kaleidoscope of emotions. They may feel sad as they reflect on their family prior to divorce. They may feel angry at being shuffled back and forth. They may also feel guilty about leaving one of their parents alone on a holiday.

Parents may feel frustrated at problems that existed during marriage flaring up with the extra communication and contact that is required over the holiday break.

There are many tips for families who are dealing with divorce during the holiday season.

- Make sure to let children know where and who they will be with and stick to the schedule you have planned. This helps a child feel secure and assists in maintaining a trusting relationship between everyone involved with the holiday schedule.

- Create new traditions. This may include celebrating your own special holiday a few days before or after the real date.

- Be consistent with household rules. It is easy to allow kids to run wild if you are only going to have to deal with sugar rushes, bad behavior, or sleep deprivation for a few days at a time and then drop them off at the other parent's house. However, children need guidelines and boundaries to function best, especially with the chaos of the holidays.

- Don't let guilt create overindulgence. It won't take away your remorse or compensate for custody arrangements - it will only make for a spoiled child.

- Always keep the best interest of the child in mind. Over the years of teaching family studies, I have invited many guest panels to speak in my classes about growing up with divorced parents. Without fail, the panel members reflect back on how their parents treated and talked about each other.

- A general consensus results with one major lesson: It is never OK to say bad things about the other parent even if it is true. Not only are you attacking the genetic foundation of your child, you are compromising the respect they will have for you years down the road.

- Give your children permission to love both parents. Sometimes we humans act like love is a limited commodity. In the case of divorce, this translates into assuming children only have enough love for one side of the family.

The reality is, however, the more you love the more love you have to give. Teach this to your children. Tell them how big their hearts are and how they can love everyone and still have more love to give.

If you won't be with your children on the big holidays, make sure you have plans of your own. Sitting at home listening to renditions of "All by Myself" while crying over a glass of vodka won't change the custody arrangements.

Volunteer with people in the community, walk shelter animals, or visit friends and family. Try to enjoy the time you have to yourself and create happy memories to share with your children.

Most important, enjoy your children and celebrate each moment you have with them regardless of the day.

Melissa Gibson Behunin is a professor of psychology and family studies at Arizona Western College.

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