Divorce can be one of the worst things someone can experience in their lifetime. The anger, disappointment, confusion, and sadness can be all but palpable to even the toughest and most stoic of humans. But what happens to the little ones caught in the mix? Often times, when divorce breaks up a home, children can be left on the sidelines watching their entire world implode while internalizing a million questions that no one can answer. Then the holidays strike. Irrespective of religious practices or familial traditions, it can be nearly impossible to put on a brave face for your little ones when you are faced with starting new family traditions that now include terms like “timesharing” and “shared parenting.” Whether you are contemplating a dissolution of marriage, going through a divorce, or have recently divorced, there are few things you and your co-parent can do to help ease this transition, not just for yourself, but for your little sprouts.
Be honest… but not TOO honest. Children in the middle of divorcing families have a natural curiosity about what is happening around them and why Mommy (or Daddy) is now living in a different home. It can be hard to bite your tongue when every fiber of your being wants to run down your ex (or soon-to-be ex) for every single “done me wrong” and then some. But, for the sake of those tiny ears, please keep it G-rated. While it is perfectly healthy to feel anger and grief, your young ones are not ready to deal with those adult issues. Nor should they have to. Instead, perhaps explain in an age-appropriate fashion that sometimes separate is better. Also make a point to remind them, over and over, just how much they are loved by BOTH of you. After all, even if you are struggling to find the reason for the breakdown of your marriage and trying to figure out where the love went, you know that both of you still love your babies.
Be Patient. Whether you’re newly separated and navigating the divorce process or this is your first holiday season following your divorce, being single is something you’ve done before. After all, you weren’t born married. For your children, they have been catapulted into something new with no real frame of reference and zero expectations. For them, they have only known their two-parent home. For them, there are more questions than answers for how to navigate this new path. For them, the stress and confusion can manifest in more ways than you can imagine. Hold on tight and take a deep breath. Your biggest challenge for the foreseeable future can be in managing your own feelings while trying to decode the behaviors and coping mechanisms of your children. They will get there, and so will you. Whether it requires professional intervention or just some good ol’ fashioned time and space, you and your children will find your way. One day at a time.
Communicate. Keep the lines of communication open, not just with your children, but with your co-parent. The holidays usually mean visits with family and gifts. Whether you were the primary “gift buyer” when you were married or holiday shopping trips were made together, now you have to plan who is buying what so that the kids don’t end up with two of everything, unless that’s what works best for everyone. After all, if you and your co-parent aren’t exactly on the best terms and gift negotiations are not feasible, then by all means, buy the gifts you want your children to enjoy… at your home. As far as sharing the holidays, unless you have a parenting plan in place which addresses holiday timesharing, make the extra-effort to coordinate schedules with your co-parent and extended families so that everyone gets to enjoy your children during the holiday season. Speaking of extended families, if the holiday falls on your time with the kids and they will not be seeing your co-parent’s extended family during that time, it’s always a nice touch to have them call Grandma and Grandpa. Whether or not you’re celebrating the fact you are no longer related to “those people,” your children are still and always will be related to them. That small gesture speaks volumes, not only to your former extended family, but to your children. And, if you’re lucky, your ex will kindly return the favor next time.
Smile. Sometimes, during divorce, it can be hard to find a reason to smile. While this article is not meant to make you believe there is a bright side to divorce, often times there’s just not, it is meant to help you cope as you navigate these deep waters with your children in tow. Understanding that children often mimic the behavior around them, it is more important than ever to show them that while things may not be okay right now, in time things will turn out just fine. No matter what caused your marriage to end, and no matter where you are at in the process of divorcing, you and your co-parent were not always at odds. You and your co-parent created these little creatures in front of you. These little ones depend on you and they learn from you and one day, they will become adults. It may be only then that they realize how much they went through. Only then will they realize how, with honesty, patience, and communication, you helped them put the pieces of their world back together. Maybe they’ll thank you. Maybe they won’t. But if they do, that’ll be a great day. And, if thinking about that day is not reason enough to smile, then I don’t know what is.
*The statements above do not constitute legal advice nor should they be taken over the advice and guidance of a professional. If you are in need of legal representation for your family law matter, please consider calling our office for a consultation.