Holidays can be a difficult time for divorced or separated families especially when people crave the perfect family event. It can be emotionally gut wrenching having to split holiday time with your ex and knowing that the person passing the gravy to your kids is not you, but your ex’s new love. Protect your kids from the stress of their changing family situation this holiday season. Kids are easily influenced and often remember holidays for a lifetime.
Remember the holidays should be all about your kids, NOT YOU!
These experiences, combined with the cultural expectation to have a Hallmark holiday, can send divorced parents into emotional overload. So how do you keep your charged feelings from spilling over onto your kids? Especially at exchanges which can seem like an emotional rollercoaster? Here are some tips for managing holiday drop-offs with true co-parenting grace.
- Try to talk with your ex (if you can’t talk, email or text but in as neutral tone as humanly possible!!). If your children will be traveling, you and your ex must discuss beforehand what they will need to bring. Winter coats? Games they love? A backpack of activities? A favorite stuffed animal? Bring necessary items to the drop-off. Don’t be passive-aggressive by “forgetting” anything. Similarly, don’t yell at your ex if he didn’t bring what was expected. Protect your children from any transitional snafus by handling the situation like the adult you are and arranging, if possible, to deliver the goods as soon as you can.
- Talk with your children.Younger kids especially can be confused by the change in your usual schedule. Discuss holiday plans with them beforehand. Assure them that they will get to spend time with both parents and other important family members. Explain this well before the holiday so they have time to process the news and ask questions before drop-off. Does traveling make them anxious? Would they like to take something along? Games they love? A backpack of activities? A favorite stuffed animal? Help your children transition easier.
- Be on time.Do not be late! If your child is worried about how he’s spending the holiday, rushing to get her to your ex’s will only increase her anxiety. And don’t purposely dawdle. It doesn’t matter how much you hate your ex; your children deserve to arrive to a holiday gathering – or an airport – on time. Remember: ruining the holiday for your ex will also ruin it for your kids.
- Keep your feelings in check. No matter how sad or angry you may feel, you must pull yourself together before and during your placement exchange. This means no crying, no angry words with your ex, no hostile body language. Your composure will make the exchange easier on your kids. It will also model to them how to resolve conflict and manage tough situations. If you must fall apart, do it as you drive away or when you’re alone, or with your therapist.
- Take care of yourself – Kids are often reflections of our own moods. If you can be calm, they’ll be more likely to be calm – and we all know the reverse is true too! So be kind to yourself. Exercise, eat healthy food, get good sleep, enjoy close friends, meditate, pray, relax.
- Don’t prolong drop-off. If your kids are crying, do not use this as an opportunity either to gloat or to seek reassurance from them that they will miss you. Assure your children that you love them, wish them a happy holiday with your ex, and remind them when they will be with you next. Do NOT have a prolonged farewell! If they’re nervous or upset about their time away from you, engineering a long goodbye will only make them feel more anxious. You do not want to communicate, through words or body language, that this is a scary time, or that they have to tend to your feelings. An appropriate exit is much more tolerable for them than an angst-ridden, ambivalent one.
Try to take the high road. A smooth exchange will signal to your children that it’s okay to have a good time with their other parent. It doesn’t matter how big a jerk you think your ex is. Your children deserve to enjoy their holiday.
Above all, give your kids permission to love their other parent and their family. They are connected to their other family and your kids should not have to hide it from you.
If you need help with your custody issues, contact a family law attorney at Petit & Dommershausen, located in Menasha and Oshkosh.
You can reach our Fox Valley attorneys at 920-739-9900 or our Oshkosh attorneys at 920-231-0699.
Petit & Dommershausen wishes everyone a wonderful holiday season.