Tips and Tools To Keep The Holidays Joyful For The Kids.
As the holidays approach, it is important for parents (married or divorced) to be mindful of the multiple accompanying stressors, and the need to keep the holidays joyful and peaceful for the kids. This article provides tips and tools to help parents minimize conflicts in the hopes of allowing kids to be kids in a happy home environment.
Unfortunately, the first Monday after the holidays is marked as “Divorce Day’ and January as the “Divorce Month” in both the U.S. and the U.K. The Huffington Post, The Guardian, and The Independent report that there is a surge in calls to divorce attorneys the first week after the holidays. The stressors of family get togethers, finances, travel, time together, and multiple decisions and negotiations frequently overburden the couple and the family system. These trigger points may lend themselves to high conflict and resentment, which could lead to the increase in calls to family attorneys, mediators, and divorce therapists.
Sadly, approximately, 40-50% of all marriages in the Untied States end in divorce, likely affecting about 1.5 million children each year (Scientific American). Hence, it is important that parents be mindful of the ongoing holiday stressors and the significant impact on children. It is also critical that parents come up with a prevention and coping plan for the upcoming stressors, so that they can minimize the conflict. Doing so is adaptive for the entire family, and may allow the children to have a joyful and peaceful holiday season.
The struggles between parents around finances, sharing the kids, presents, spiritual, religious, and celebratory beliefs and practices, family relations, travels, and even meal planning can put the children in a very difficult emotional position. This may be particularly true of children of divorce, who may get caught in the divorce tug-of wars, as each parent pulls on the children for the holidays.
The following tips and tools can be helpful in keeping parents (divorced and married) focused on the positives, compromises, and resolving conflicts in healthy ways and in the best interest of their children:
- Parents should ask each other what is the most important and meaningful part of the holidays for each of them. Write these down and read them each day to remind yourself of the true focus of the holiday season.
- If you are divorced or married, ask your children what is the most important and meaningful part of the holidays for each of them. Write them down and read them each day to remind yourself what the kids hope for this holiday season.
- If you have financial struggles, come up with a mutual goal or budget prior to the holidays, so that you prevent arguments and conflicts in the moment. Stick to what you have agreed to.
- If you have religious, spiritual, or celebratory differences, be respectful of your partner’s needs and wishes, and genuinely join in. Celebrating in multiple ways teaches children tolerance, respect, and acceptance for diversity, as highlighted in my article in the Chicago Tribune.
- Be an empathic and supportive listener. Empathy, validation, and emotional listening go a long way in decreasing tensions and conflicts during the holidays. Listening empathically and trying to understand your partner’s or even ex-partner’s needs and wishes allow negotiations and decisions to occur in kinder ways that are healthier for parents and the children.
- If you are divorced, avoid placing the child in the middle and tugging on them to join you for the holiday. As outlined in my article in the NEPA Family Magazine, create a fair, simple, and consistent turn taking system where the children split the major holidays between the parents, and there is zero pressure on the child to make an impossible choice.
- Keep siblings together for the holidays. Sibling relationships are the longest relationships we have, and the sibling bond can serve as an effective buffer to difficult life transitions. Siblings spending holidays together is an important part of their development, their memories, and their relationship.
- If things go wrong, avoid the blame game. If children witness parents blaming the other (divorced or married), parents are putting the child in a bind. This can burden the child with anger, guilt, and confusion, which can impair his/her ability to cope and enjoy the holidays.
- Parents and family members frequently have different ideas on the ‘best’ way to celebrate the holidays. Just because you disagree with your partner’s or ex-partner’s ideas, you should avoid all ‘put-downs’ of the other parent. Unless it is a critical issue that is genuinely harmful for the child, parents should maintain a neutral and cooperative stance with each other in all their messages to the children. This cooperative stance allows children to continue to feel love and attached with both parents, and prevents a disruption in the child’s alliance and trust with each parent – which is key to a healthy family system and in the best interest of the child.
- Compromise, compromise, compromise. Marriage, divorce, and parenting are complicated terrains of our lives; but the more we compromise and the more we are flexible, the more likely our children will continue to thrive, and truly enjoy the holidays with joy and peace.
Holidays and celebrations can be complicated to navigate, especially with children. Parents are faced with many choices and decisions, and the holidays may be unusually tricky and painful, as they can trigger strong emotions, needs, memories, and power struggles for parents. It is best if parents (married or divorced) can implement the tips and tools provided above, to minimize conflict and leave the kids out of emotional tug-of-wars, so that their children can genuinely enjoy the holidays with joy and peace.