If there's ever a time for divorced parents to be cooperative, it's around Christmas. For children, the buildup starts at Halloween. Decorations are up all over town. Every store is festooned in holiday glitz and the local FM radio stations start playing Christmas music before the Thanksgiving turkey is even out of the oven. The kids are getting excited. And they're getting worried. Where will they spend Christmas? Will they see the people they love? Will there be peace among the adults? Or will it be a time that is fraught with tension and tears?
It's up to the grown-ups. The best gift divorced parents can give their kids during the holiday season is the gift of a well-planned and peaceful holiday week. It's a time to put the needs of the kids before the wishes of the parents.
One of the most destructive ideas in our culture is that some days are more special than others. People get so possessive of Christmas Eve or Christmas Day that they forget that there is a holiday season. The kids don't care about waking up to Christmas on the 25th; they care about waking up to Christmas. Their attitude about a particular day rests with the adults. If the adults make a big deal about who "wins" Christmas morning, the kids will see another day as second best. But if the adults focus on making a special day out of the day that each parent has with the kids, the kids will respond accordingly.
Think about it: from the kids' point of view, they will have two Christmases. Many kids in divorced families have even more than that as they journey along a movable feast from parent home to parent home to a few stops at grandparents' homes as well. Some kids of divorced parents see this as one of the few perks of a split family. Divorced parents can emphasize the positive by highlighting the fact that there are many people who love the kids and who want to share their holidays with them.
If you haven't already, make a phone call to the kids' other parent and grandparents today. Set up a rational visiting schedule, bearing in mind that over-tired and over-stressed kids are seldom happy. Trade off Christmas Day if you must -- your house this year, your ex's house next year. But make an agreement that both of you will stress that it isn't the date that is important but rather the day they get to spend with each family. Then tell the kids about when they will be with who, emphasizing the positive, so they can relax about holiday plans.
If you do have strong feelings about the date and it isn't your year, keep it to yourself. Worrying your children or making them feel guilty for being with their other parent isn't fair. Instead, plan a way to spend the day that feels good. Get together with friends. Volunteer at the local food pantry or shelter that is serving dinner to those less fortunate. Curl up on the couch and give yourself a marathon of your favorite movies. Or spend the day getting ready for your time with the kids. Selflessness and care will make the day go by.
Follow Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MHartwellWalker