After Divorce: 9 Tips to Help Your Kids Have a Great Christmas

Which is the one day a year that everyone is supposed to get along and be happy? Most people would say “Christmas” (For consistency, I’ll say “Christmas,” but please replace that with “Solstice” or “Hanukah” or your holiday.)

Christmas comes with an abundance of pressure already — add to that a divorce in process or a recent divorce and you have a recipe, not for gingerbread men, but for ill-behaved men and women. And ill-behaved parents make for unhappy children.

How can we replace the holiday angst with holiday joy? As often in divorce, the answer lies in focusing on the children and their needs. You can shift your thoughts and actions rather quickly when you imagine how you want your children to remember their holidays. Do you want your kids to remember you and their father or mother getting along, being civil? Would you like them to remember how they had time with each parent and still participated in the holiday traditions they had before the divorce?

After 12 years as a lawyer, half that as a divorce mediator, and 4 years as a divorced mother, here are my best tips for making Christmas a happy time for your kids:

1. Figure out which traditions are important to them and find a way to make them happen. You may have to shift timing slightly or do things the day before or after, but make it happen. Be flexible. I know you can.

2. Do *not* take extended family into account too much. Yes, I think all family is important, but the focus is your kids and what they need and want, not what your Aunt Mary wants. Trying to please too many people is impossible and it will not make you happy to even try, I promise. Tell those folks you love them and ask them to please understand you need to do what will be best for your kids, and you’re sure they understand.

3. If you still live close enough to do so and it works for you, try to make sure your kids have part of Christmas Day with each parent.

4. If you live in different states, or if the weather is too bad to drive to the other parent’s house, use Skype or another video chat service to connect the kids with their other parent on the big day. If gifts were mailed, the other parent can watch the kids opening them via web cam.

5. Do not insist your kids eat full meals at each home, if a big meal is part of your day. I recently spoke to a client who said she’s scolded if she doesn’t eat a lot at each of her parents’ homes. Eating needs to be pleasurable and stress-free, not a cause to stuff oneself because some relative will be offended if you don’t. Granted, she’s an adult now, but she explained it had always been that way, even when she was a child.

6. Speak with the kids’ other parent to coordinate gifts. This can prevent difficulty when the child gets duplicate toys and doesn’t want to hurt either parents’ feelings by returning one of them.

7. Allow the kids to take toys to the other parent’s home. Please do not restrict where a child to having his or her favorite toys at one parent’s home only. I had a client once whose former husband would insist that any toys he gave the kids had to remain at his home. The children would sometimes come home crying about having to leave their special toy at the other parent’s home.

I’d go so far as to suggest that if there is a fairly inexpensive toy that your co-parent is being an idiot about keeping at his or her home, that you buy a duplicate, so that the child doesn’t have to deal with the turmoil. Kids of divorced parents have some difficult challenges, it’s great to minimize them when we can.

8. When it’s your parenting time on the holiday, ask your child how Christmas was at their dad’s or mom’s and be happy for their joy. Something like “Wow, that sounds fun!” or “I hear you had a great time, that’s awesome!” show you love them and share their joys. On the other hand, empathize if it didn’t go as they would have liked. If they said their mom and step-dad argued all day, it’s supportive to say something like “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Let’s have a good time here now, ok?” It’s not helpful to say things like “oh yeah, your mom always argued, that’s why I left her” or some such. Please don’t minimize or criticize their holiday with the other parent.

9. Count your blessings. No matter the stress, the million things to do, million places to be on Christmas, if you can read this blog post, you can hear or see, you can use a computer, you have children about which to read. You are breathing and I bet you can even smile. I can see your heart glowing from here when you think about your kids and Christmas. Keep that feeling, you’ll have a great Christmas and so will your kids.

Beautiful blessings to you and yours this holiday and a peace-filled New Year,