The following timely article appears in the online publication of The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), an international organization dedicated to resolution of family conflict. It was written by Peg Libby, Executive Director, Kids First Center, Portland, Maine.
Here is an excerpt from the Holidays and Celebrations chapter of our new book, Kids First: What Kids Want Grown-ups to Know about Divorce and Separation.
1. Plan, plan, plan
Planning and predictability help kids cope, especially with events like holidays that are often ripe with emotion and expectations.
2. Begin early
Don’t leave the complicated scheduling logistics until the holiday is close at hand – take it seriously and make decisions early (when parents begin writing out their separation plans is a good place to start).
3. Be specific
Though future events can never be foreseen entirely, kids want to know what to expect year after year at holiday time. Specific and detailed holiday plans will provide kids with the security of knowing they have a plan they can count on.
4. Include the kids
Based upon the ages of the kids, parents are wise to include kids in discussions of new holiday traditions, while making it clear that the final decision will be up to the parents.
5. Be open and flexible
Though parents are urged to specify a very detailed schedule for holiday events, it is also unrealistic to block out the possibility of changes. However, the same rules of planning, specificity, predictability and inclusion of kids apply.
6. Give kids permission to discuss their experiences at the other home
Parents respect their kids’ need for privacy by not asking probing questions about the other parent’s home. However, kids may want to discuss their holiday experiences and they will feel comfortable if they are free to do so.
7. Create new traditions
It is OK, even important, to acknowledge that “something has changed this year” as families go through the first holidays following separations. Each parent can play a role to help create a new, personalized tradition that honors the old traditions.
8. Introduce no surprises
Introduction of surprises or emotionally charged information, such as new partners, or moving, is best delayed until a quieter time. When parents keep in mind the child’s point of view during holidays, they can avoid bad perceptions of otherwise good news.
9. Don’t discuss issues
Refrain from the temptation to use holiday drop-off and pick-up times to review past problems and areas of tension. Parents can easily project their own feelings onto their child.
10. Give yourself a break
It should be expected that difficult feelings and behaviors will arise around holidays and special events. Unfortunately, parents do not have a guidebook that tells them what to do for every such event. There is only a right solution for a specific family and specific kids. Informed, caring parents work together to figure out what works to put kids first.
Have a peaceful holiday season!