“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.
Like many children of divorce, Jenny hated Christmas, even years after leaving home. The exact opposite of what her parents wanted.
Jan loved Christmas and fought hard in the divorce to get her time every Christmas morning. Larry gave in. But he arrived at 1:00 sharp to get his time.
Knowing how angry her dad would be if she didn’t come out the door as he arrived, Jenny sped through opening her gifts with Jan to be ready for dad. Once at Larry’s, Jenny kept thinking about how she had hurt her mom by rushing through the morning. Trying to please both parents left Jenny feeling panicked and afraid. When Santa asked what she wanted for Christmas, Jenny’s first thought was, “For Christmas to be over!”
No parenting plan aims for children to hate Christmas. But children caught between parents at the holidays come to dread them. There is a different way.
Focus on patterns not dates
What do happy children remember about holidays? The traditions. They remember that Dad always plays Muppet Christmas when they decorate the tree. They remember that Mom bakes French toast before they open gifts. They remember opening the advent calendar doors or looking for the elf’s new location. When parents focus on preserving traditions children, enjoy the holiday, no matter when the holiday is celebrated.
Divorcing parents preserve patterns when they ask children what they value most then transition those traditions into the new family routine. Dad and the children will still decorate a Christmas tree. He can still play Muppets. Mom can still serve French toast whenever she and the children open presents. Parents can buy the same advent calendar so children can open the doors at either house. The elf can move wherever children spend the night. As parents preserve critical traditions, they give their children the gift of childhood and of wonderful memories for each holiday.
Give children permission to enjoy the other parent
Jenny’s father ruined her Christmas through his quest to get even with her mom. If Jenny was late for his time, he exploded. Mom may have won the right to Christmas morning but she never enjoyed a single one. Neither did her daughter. One shift could have made all the difference.
Larry could have thought of Jenny spending Christmas morning with mom as Jenny’s time not mom’s. When parents see their child’s enjoyment of the other parent as a threat, they often try to undermine that time or to even the score.
When parents instead give their children the freedom to fully love, engage with, and enjoy the other parent children relax. They step out of the role of protecting parents and back into the role of being children. Parents who make this shift often find that their own standing with their children goes deeper and their own time with their children richer. In short, parents benefit themselves when they support the other parent.
Live the message of the holiday
Each holiday honors a message. When parents live that message they bring the holiday to life for their children. Thanksgiving focuses on gratitude for all the blessings received. Hanukkah focuses on dedication and deliverance. Christmas focuses on sacrificial love for others. Kwanzaa celebrates African heritage and culture. New Year’s focuses on new beginnings. Parents who work to bring these themes to life for their children make the holidays special moments of celebration and joy.
Children of divorce suffer confusion and hurt even from the most cooperative parents. Returning to these larger holiday themes helps balance the scales and ground children in the most important values.
Parents going through divorce often worry about keeping the holidays special and fight to the death for their own vision. Too often parents don’t realize that it’s the fight that ruins everything. When parents find a way to preserve the key elements for children, allow children to enjoy both homes, and focus on the real meaning of each holiday children remember holidays with joy.
If you plan to divorce and want a path that protects your children while offering security to you, contact The Resolution Center at info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com or 317-344-9740. We look forward to serving you.