“I don’t remember any gift I got for Christmas, Jenny shared in therapy. But, I can tell you the color of the wallpaper in Mom’s foyer. The feel of the carpet on the stairs. The sound of dad’s car as he drove in. That’s what I remember about Christmas. That’s
“It’s time,” said Joe. Donna nodded. They both felt it coming. Once out in the open, they felt relieved that the decision to divorce had become final. But now. . .they needed to tell the children. “What will we say when they ask, ‘Why?'” Joe muttered.
“Today is going to be a great day!” Andy thought as he scrambled the eggs for his daughter’s breakfast. “Amy is up. We are ahead of schedule. Everything is running smoothly.”
“Dad! I left my violin at Mom’s! I need it for rehearsal.”
Andy threw the
Brad stared at the phone dumbfounded. I offered to take the kids this weekend so Julie could go out with friends for her birthday. Why is she yelling at me?????
Brad isn’t alone. When former spouses try to talk to each other, all too often they end up frustrated and confused.
How in the world will I make it?? stuttered Norma. She stared at her list of finances for the divorce mediation appointment.
The debt column loomed mortgage, car payment, student loan, 3 credit cards. Though there was some equity in the house, it didn’t even begin to cover the debts. Looking
Jenny arrived at the mediation session before Dan visibly fuming. After a few polite preliminaries, she bluntly stated. My son will NOT spend one night at his father’s house.”
As I tried to explain parenting guidelines, she exploded, “I don’t care what the parenting guidelines
Abby’s simple wish echoes with children everywhere–children facing another holiday season divided between their divorced parents.
At best, in a season focused on family closeness and harmony, children feel caught between two homes. They want to be with both parents, but they can’t. They live with being excited over time with one parent and grief over missing time with the other.
At worst, children become the referees in an ongoing brawl between their parents.
Children don’t want either of these. They just want to relax and enjoy the holidays like every other child.
Parents can make this happen. Here’s how:
Focus on the goal?
“Begin with the end in mind.” Franklin Covey. If the master of achieving goals offers advice, it’s good to listen. Parents who want to give great holidays should begin with the end in mind. Thanksgiving celebrates gratitude. Hanukkah and Christmas celebrate sacrificial love. New Year’s celebrates new beginnings.
How can these themes shape parents plans for the holidays?
When parents focus on being grateful for their children–and show gratitude to the other parent for making these children possible–they make Thanksgiving come to life. When parents focus on giving their children the freedom to genuinely enjoy time with their other parent, they put a face on sacrificial love. When parents step away from ongoing fights and forge more cooperative engagements, they create a new beginning for their children.
The best parents find a way to join forces. Conversations go something like, “What would you like to show our children? Here’s what I would like to do with them. How can we work together so that they can enjoy the day?”
Parents who refuse to do this pay a high price. Hypocrisy – saying one thing but doing another – kills relationships. Talking endlessly about how important the holidays are but then ranting about the other parent, no matter how justified, doesn’t match the holiday spirit. It’s just selfish. And hypocritical. Parents lose their children when they do this.
When parents instead work together to match the theme of the day, children come to trust their parents. That trust builds relationships. More, parents become their children’s heroes.
Listen to the children?
Children of divorce say they often feel more like property than people. It can be hard to avoid.
Parents want their children. Divorce causes heavy losses. And, each accommodation for the other parent often feels like yet another loss.
Parents also want to protect their children, whether it’s from the hurt they experience with the other parent or from losing the traditions of their childhood. So, they hold tightly and fight for time. Yet, what was meant to make children feel special often just makes them feel like prizes in a battle.
Parents can fix this if they listen to their children. Children want:
- kind voices,
- parents showing respect for each other,
- parents to managing the day so that children can relax and be kids,
- to enjoy their time
The following interview with 3 girls details what the majority of children of divorce want to say. For divorced parents–taking this message to heart might make all the difference this holiday season.
How could she? He had cheated on her. He balked at every child support payment. And, now was flouting his new girlfriend in front of the children.
WHY??!! Why did so many “experts” ask her to be with him?
Jenny echoes the exasperation of many. Co-parenting books tout the importance of parents offering a united front. Working together. Being nice. Why?!
Sure, many ex-spouses do want the other parent to be okay, But, often, they want the other to be okay . . .in Africa. Far away and out of sight. Where the new life doesn’t unfold right in front of them.
Yet, children need their parents to still be their parents.
They need parents to work together. To offer consistent messages. To coordinate their efforts.
How do parents, reeling from so much emotion, get here?
Oddly, Halloween can help.
A low-key holiday with little emotion, Halloween focuses on fun. This lightened mood–free from deep-seated family traditions or connections–offers parents the opportunity to join forces in an equally low-key way. It can be a great first step. Here’s why–
Most sane, mature people can manage 2 hours searching for candy. Especially if they join with a larger neighborhood group as they trick or treat or at a community Trunk-or-Treat event. The kids anticipate fun and treats. All parents have to do is join their spirit and the fun.
- Set some ground rules. Mutually agree on a range of costume options, then let the kids pick their costumes. Decide ahead of time who will check the candy. Agree about the length of time to be out. Defined expectations keep parents from