Today’s family comes in a variety of forms, with divorce and remarriage increasingly common. Given these many combinations, making plans for the holidays can be complex. Which parent gets the kids and when? How do exes divide up the gift lists? Those are just a hint of the many issues that come up this time of year.
Whether your relationship with your ex is amicable or not, your job as co-parents gets trickier when trying to divvy up the details that come with holiday festivities.
“The best advice for parents is to try to work together to lessen any additional stress on the child,” says Dr. Sue Cohen, Director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center. “This includes avoiding confrontations and not putting the other parent and extended family members down.”
Following are 12 tips on keeping the holidays joyful for everyone involved.
- Put your kids’ happiness first. If you have nothing but animosity for your former spouse, put it aside so your kids can experience the holidays as a fun-filled, loving time of year.
- Don’t make gift-giving a competition. If your kids make a wish list of gifts they are hoping to receive, go over it with your ex and come up with an equitable division of who gives what.
- Help your child select a gift for the other parent (and, if you think it’s appropriate, to the stepparent and stepkids, if there are any). This small but gracious act will help make your child feel more secure, as well as serve as a model of kind behavior.
- While gifts are a big part of most families’ holiday tradition, remember that the best thing you can give your child is attention and love. Getting the latest “must have” toy won’t be what they remember in years to come, but the special times you share together will hold a fond place in their memories.
- Let your children know that you want them to have a terrific time with their other parent. While your child’s well-being should be your goal year-round, it’s especially important that, at holiday time, they know you’re happy that they’ll be spending time with their dad or mom, even if that means that you will be spending some time on your own.
- Make plans well ahead of time. You don’t want both you and your ex to plan dinner with the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on the same night.
- Speaking of, don’t plan too much activity on any one day, especially if you have little ones. You’ll end up with exhausted kids being shuffled from one house to another.
- Keep family traditions alive. If you’ve baked cookies each year, your kids would be terribly sad if you didn’t do the same this year. Also, think about creating some new, special traditions.
- If you and your spouse don’t live near each other, consider alternating holidays year to year.
- When the “negotiations” about times and dates and events aren’t terribly friendly, plow through with as much graciousness as you can muster. Make compromises—and don’t ever put the kids in the middle!
- If your relationship with your ex is on relatively friendly terms, consider spending part of the holidays together as a family. Your children will fare far better in the long run if they don’t feel that they have divided loyalties between the two most important people in their lives.
- Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. When you maintain your routine and get enough sleep, exercise, healthy food, etc., you will not only feel better but your kids will benefit as well.
If your child is struggling with issues surrounding divorce or experiencing any emotional challenge, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is here to help. Contact us at (516) 626-1971. Happy Holidays!