This blog article (the first of a two-part article) is from Syd Sharples, LCSW, an Austin-based Mental Health Professional (MHP) and therapist in Austin. She sits on the Board of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas.
Divorce re-forms families. Instead of two parents living under one roof, there are now two homes where the children live, each with its own distinct culture and traditions. Ideally, the transition to this new world order goes smoothly, and the children adjust with relative ease. But even in the smoothest transition, holidays can represent a challenging time for divorced families.
There are functional considerations: What will the schedule be? How will gift-giving be managed across the households? What traditions will be carried over and what new ones will be created?
Then there are the emotional considerations: What will it be like to “celebrate” as this re-formed family and what memories will be stirred up? How are the children managing their feelings about being in a divorced family at a time when family takes center stage and for that matter? How are the parents feeling?
Most divorce decrees define how time with the children will be shared during various holidays. You and your ex-spouse may choose to follow this plan, or you may agree to a different schedule. Whatever the case, it is essential to have a plan well in advance, and to follow that plan. Your schedule is the first opportunity you have to reassure your children with a structure that they can rely on and, ideally, find comfort in.
Let them know by November 1st at the latest what the general schedule is. As details get worked out, share that information with them and tell them when, where and how you’ll be with them. If you and your ex are able to spend time together that’s comfortable and enjoyable for the children, go for it. But bear in mind that even the most artfully-masked tension rarely gets by a child’s keen radar.
The holiday season is also a time to enlist the support and cooperation of your extended family. If you know you won’t be with your children on Thanksgiving Day, invite the clan over when the children will be with you. Encourage the grandparents to fly in when they can spend time with the kids, even if that means celebrating a week before or after the official date. Adults tend to attach far more meaning to specific dates than children do, and relaxing your definition of holiday calendars can go a long way towards easing the stress of the season.
Coordination between households is another way to reassure your children that they are held in the loving arms of their family – albeit, a different version of that family. There’s certainly thoughtful consideration to be given to the schedule, and you and your ex-spouse are sure to appreciate each other’s understanding and flexibility around family gatherings, events, and even airline schedules.