“For Christmas, I just want everybody to be happy–to get along.” Abby, age 9.
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 with one parent without feeling guilty about the other.
Parents get here:
- by being flexible,
- by greeting each other with a smile and a gracious “hello” at exchanges,
- by letting children be excited about their time with the other parent without repercussions,
- by remembering that when children are with the other parent, they are with the one other person on the planet that loves them as much as they do.
Finesse the partnership
The co-parenting books often paint a saccharine-sweet image of parents getting along. Sometimes this happens. When it doesn’t, parents often give up on co-parenting altogether. They assume the choice is between friends and enemies. It doesn’t have to be.
If nothing else, parents can be good business partners, committed to the endeavor of making life great for their children. As with any partnership, the devil is in the details. Attend to these, and parents will make the holidays much better for their children.
- Watch the clock. People don’t keep important clients or bosses waiting. Don’t keep the other parent waiting.
- Aim for smooth, amicable transitions. If possible, exchange privately at a home, keeping children out of the spotlight. If parents must meet in public, pick a spot at the back of the parking lot and stick to pleasant greetings. Reserve any issues to be discussed for a private meeting.
- Keep your word. As with any important work project, fulfilling commitments builds trust and ensures results.
When parents work together, they make the holidays great and they raise happy, healthy children.
If you have been through a divorce and need a little help making this holiday season work, we would be happy to help. Call 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com. We look forward to serving you.