Positive tools for thriving families.

Keeping the holidays peaceful and joyful for the kids is critical given the multiple stressors parents experience at this time. Travel plans, family get-togethers, finances and budgets, children being home from school, meal planning, and differences in cultural, spiritual, and religious celebratory practices can trigger significant conflicts. Hence, as the holidays approach, it is important for parents (married or divorced) to be mindful of the arguments and negotiations, and the need to keep the holidays pleasurable for the kids.

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 multiple decisions and negotiations during the holidays 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).

It is therefore 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. This may be particularly true of children of divorce, who may get caught in the divorce tug-of wars of schedules, gift-giving competitions, and sibling rivalry, 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:

  1. 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 it down and read it each day to remind yourself what the kids hope for this holiday season.
  2. Parents should ask each other what is the most important and meaningful part of the holidays for each of them. Write it down and read it each day to remind yourself of the true focus of the holiday season.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Practice being 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 to 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.
  10. 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.

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  • Exceptional, impressive, thoroughly 'kid friendly' from beginning to end, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" should be a part of every community library Parenting Studies collections. For families with young children who are having to deal with divorce, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" will prove to be an invaluable and instructive aid.

    Editor in Chief - Midwest Book Review

  • Those of us parenting, working with, or caring for children experiencing divorce will welcome Family Changes as a unique, positive, and creative resource for helping children understand and cope with this complicated transition. The comprehensive note to adults effectively explains how children work through painful questions and feelings. The touching story—with the endearing Zoey and her attempt to understand a very grown up topic—ends with extremely helpful follow up questions that will be highly valued by parents, child advocates, therapists, and others who wish to better serve children during this difficult time. I highly recommend this book to parents and professionals.

    Sacha Coupet, Ph.D., J.D. Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Law, Loyola University, Chicago, IL

  • Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children is an outstanding book that is gentle, positive, and validating for both children and adults. With an excellent and informative parent guide about the value of talking to children about their feelings, a highly sensitive and engaging story with exquisite illustrations, and an effective list of questions that children typically ask, this book is essential reading for divorcing families, and for therapists and advocates working with children of divorce.

    Sandra A. Graham-Bermann, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Michigan

  • Family Changes is an inspiring and exceptional book on divorce. It explains divorce in a developmentally appropriate and comforting language that validates children's complex feelings about divorce. Dr. Maker's expertise and years of experience working with children who are coping with the grief and confusion that often accompany divorce shine through in every page. I highly recommend this book to divorcing parents, schools, libraries, and professionals working with children of divorce.

    Martha Crowe, M.A. Child Development, Institute for Public Health, San Diego State University, CA

  • Dr. Maker has brought us this excellent child-centric educational book about how to navigate the changes of a family undergoing divorce. Dr. Maker takes us through this experience from the child's point of view and shares the gift of positive transformation that can occur during this life-changing time. The illustrations are sublime and the topic is handled so gently and ingeniously. Of course, it is written by a child psychologist with the gift of creativity. It's a book that every child therapist, library, school, and families going through a divorce should have on their shelves.

    Krista Royabal, M.D., Psychiatrist, Executive Medical Director, True Life Center for Wellbeing, CA

  • Based on the typical emotional turbulence a child feels from separation or divorce, Family Changes receives high recommendation as the first title that adults should turn to in the effort to explain, explore, and support a child's feelings in the matter, concluding with a list of 'process questions' which adults can use to further enhance the story line's overall approach.

    CA Bookwatch/Donovan’s Literary Services/Recommended Reading

  • The story touches on several key issues that children worry about - will their parents still love them, will they have two homes now, did they somehow cause the divorce, etc. The book also opens with a straightforward Note to Adults and ends with a list of questions that adults can discuss with children. Often books that do a good job of explaining divorce and separation are so focused on the child's point-of-view, that they don't offer any advice for the parents, caregivers, and teachers that are trying to help the child makes sense of it all. Family Changes avoids that problem and gives good guidelines for adults. I would recommend this book to parents and other family members, educators, and counselors.

    NetGalley Reviews/The Fairview Review - Librarian

  • This story is filled with little moments that reflect the nature of children perfectly. If you need to explain what it means to be divorced or separated to your child then this is one of the best ways to do that. The book is filled with relatable emotions and questions that a lot of children will have if their family is going through a separation. Dr. Maker’s years of experience are evident in the story as she masterfully addresses many common concerns for children experiencing a divorce in their family.

    The Littlest Bookshelf