With holidays upon us there are many opportunities for divorced parents to either hurt or help their shared children. Many co-parents fight and argue over who gets to have the kids on Christmas Eve or fight for Christmas morning… unfortunately, they forget that the emotional experience is quite daunting for their children.
Kids of divorce have one heart and yet they share their lifetime between two homes. When a parent (who may be hurting or upset from the divorce) continues to create difficult experiences for the other parent, the result is they are actually hurting their own child.
I know of a young lady who has spent almost every Christmas Day of her life (since age 2, now 16) “split in half” and feels like it’s hard on her because she can never relax and enjoy the family she’s with because everybody is always watching the clock. Her parents always insist it be “exactly even” and her grandparents have joined the predictable argument…
“If you spend 3 hours over there, at the other grandparents’ house, then you have to spend 3 hours here at our house, otherwise it’s unfair.”
My advice to divorced co-parents is to be intentional to reduce the amount of transitions during the big holidays. Consider rotating instead of splitting them. Kids often don’t express their feelings, but trying to put their peace of mind as the main priority is a powerful gift! Put your “have to have” mentality aside and consider how you would feel if you were with 5-10 people you like and love (cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents) and they were having fun, watching football, eating and playing board games and just as the next fun activity was about to start, “Poof!” you were taken away from them. You may feel sadness, frustration or a longing to stay and not miss out on the laughter and fun.
Even if you have grumpy family members who aren’t necessarily fun, it may still feel awkward to leave while everyone else is staying.
The additional benefits are that if and when you re-couple (talking to the parents here) and want to travel or see your new spouse’s family or go skiing or spend time at the ocean, then you will have the freedom to do that. One year you can take your children with you the whole time and the other year you can support your children enjoying time with the other parent.
The most important gifts that children need, when parents live apart, is the freedom to love each family member, the protection from being caught in the middle and to know they they are NOT on anyone’s time clock or have to worry about the adult’s anger. To believe that their parents are still their parents and have a deeply vested commitment to work together for their benefit, not against each other…that is the best “gift” a child in a divided family could ever receive. And giving that gift 365 days a year is the best way to help, not hurt the children loving with one heart, in two homes.
Tammy Daughtry, MMFT, Founder, Coparenting International
Author, speaker, adult child of divorce, national trainer and advocate for children