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SINGLE PARENTS AND HOLIDAYS

By Vicki Lansky

The first holidays with your family structure are the most difficult, whether your children are with you or their other parent. That's the bad news. The good news is there is only one first time for each holiday. You'll survive each "first," and it will get better each succeeding year. Small comfort, I know. Turning the lemons into lemonade takes a bit of planning and effort. Don't carry the burden alone; share feelings with your children if they are old enough and let them help with your plans. And if they feel their own sadness, let them voice these feelings, too, for they are normal.

DIVIDING THE HOLIDAYS

Consider every possibility before you settle on the holidays divisions that work best for you. It's logical that the kids spend Mother's day with Mom, Father's Day with Dad, and visit for respective birthdays. But there is also July 4th, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and President's Day to think about. Other big days (Easter or Passover, Christmas or Chanukah, and Thanksgiving) are a bit harder to handle. Some divorced parents alternate holidays each year, others divide the more important ones, alternating even this division from year to year. Keep in mind that for a holiday like Christmas, waiting until "next year" to celebrate with Mom or Dad is a very long time for children. In some families it works best if the children spend certain religious holidays with the parent who is the most involved with church or synagogue.

Examine your holiday traditions. You may discover that you have continued to do things you don't like just because you have always done them. Now is a good time to make changes:

*Make decisions about "who gets whom" and "who goes where" as far ahead as possible, and tell the children so they will know what they are doing. Ask teenagers for their input, keeping in mind that they may want to spend some of their holiday time with friends - without either parent. A well-planned schedule is especially important the first year.

*Celebrate the eve of the holiday at one home and the day of the holiday at the other. Children often like this best because they get double the holiday fun, which makes up for what they have lost in family unity.

*Consider separating the children so they can share the holiday alone with one parent. You can switch midway through (if proximity allows) so each child has some time with both parents. We often put the burden of family togetherness on children by assuming that if they are together at the holidays, then at least some part of the family is "intact," but children often enjoy being "singletons." Separating them is also one way of ensuring that neither parent will be alone.

Children like having both parents together on family occasions if the parents are comfortable enough in each other's presence to handle it and are not feeding into reconciliation fantasies. Perhaps the "gift" of occasional togetherness can work for your family more easily when it is the child who is being celebrated, as happens on birthdays. There are ways you can ease these times, too. Eat out on neutral ground or if your ex is coming over for a family meal, make it a buffet to avoid the problem of who will sit at the head of the table.

HOLIDAY TRADITIONS

*Start new traditions. Let your children help you come up with new ideas. Will it be caroling? Visiting grandparents or friends in a nursing home? If you always opened gifts Christmas day, open them on Christmas Eve this year. Make sledding on New Year's Eve a new annual event. The nice thing about "new" is that it doesn't have to mean "less" or "damaged."

*Discuss past celebrations and traditions if the kids want to. Acknowledging these memories validates a child's feeling that it's all right to yearn for or mourn former times. Keeping some traditions and, perhaps, modifying them slightly, can provide a sense of continuity and comfort.

*Change the scene, if you can. Spend the holidays someplace you've never been - especially if you won't have the kids with you over the holidays. But do try to go to a place where you won't be alone. That can be depressing. Try to find a friend or relative you can visit or travel with.

HOLIDAY GUIDELINES AND ALTERNATIVES

*Be cautious about providing more excitement than the kids are used to, especiallyyounger children. "Two of everything" may make things even, but may also be exhausting. Some parents feel, however, this offsets the "unfairness" kids must tolerate in a divorce and becomes one of the "advantages."

*Don't let competitiveness about holiday visits become undue burden for a child to please a parent, either now - or years down the road.

*Form a support group. With just a little luck, you may find another single parent whose kids are compatible with yours, and you can share holiday meals and celebrations. If you're going to be alone, invite other single parents to join you for Christmas dinner.

*Participate in the activities of your church or synagogue; if you don't belong, join. Don't be afraid to replace previous family ties by tying into a religious community - there is nothing hypocritical about it.

*Don't feel guilty about not giving children everything they ask for. They don't need it. One - maybe two - special items won't get lost in the shuffle. Don't be apologetic about making drastic changes in gift-giving habits and expensive celebrations if finances are tight. An honest discussion about available dollars will assure a child that cash, not love, is the issue. You will find that children enjoy making gifts and setting up new, less materialistic traditions.

*Above all, be good to yourself. Spend time with your children, perhaps more than you usually do, but save some time and energy for your own hobbies, activities, and friends. The holidays are for everyone -- including you. Be tolerant of the other parent being excessive with gifts. An absent parent will often do this to score points with the kids. Don't interpret this situation as a personal statement against you. Don't let yourself feel competitive or less worthy, if you are less able -- or even unwilling -- to provide expensive gifts.

GIFT GIVING

Few things are harder to deal with than a child taking a gift you gave him or her to the other parent=s house. It's important to bite your tongue in such situations. The fact that children can transport possessions freely between homes is a positive sign of the comfort level with two homes. Don't detract from that. If you are the noncustodial parent, give gifts that will last to keep you remembered to the child. That doesn't mean they should be extravagant. In fact, it's not a good idea to set yourself up as the indulgent parent. Elaborate and expensive gifts aren't good for kids, and they flame the fire of discontent in the heart of your former spouse, who may not be able to give something of equivalent value. Instead, try:

*Magazine subscriptions of your child's choice and interest level as a way to "connect" monthly.

*Sending flowers for a birthday, or to mark any occasion. This appeals to girls of any age.

*If you're in a quandary about what to give, ask your child or former spouse.

*If you want to give an expensive gift, consider having the other parent be part of the decision to lessen the hostility and competition.

*Give gifts when they are due. Timeliness is almost as important as the gifts themselves. A gift a month late tells your child that he or she is not really that important to you. And don't give teenagers expensive gifts if you haven't given them basic support for other things that are important to them; it only breeds hostility.

Reprinted with permission from Vicki Lansky's Divorce Book for Parents ($5.99). Available by calling 1-800-255-3379. Must reading for divorced parents!

Posted on Saturday, February 24, 2007 at 02:28PM by Registered CommenterSite Administrator in | Comments Off

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