On the Simpsons, Helen Lovejoy is often quoted as saying, “Will someone please think of the children?” I think this is a particularly appropriate sentiment during the holiday season. For families who have not been “intact” for some time or others who are going through transition, often the stress of the holiday season, coupled with the additional stress of new living circumstances, makes the holidays particularly trying.
I find clients who are transitioning to their new lives find the first holiday season to be particularly difficult. Everyone faces stresses associated with the holidays in the form of decorating, baking, buying presents, making merry and balancing budgets. Those facing the new world of contemplating whose Christmas festivities the kids will attend and what holiday traditions can survive the transition have it particularly hard.
To those of you who have already worked through these issues, and who know exactly what you will be doing this holiday season, where the kids will be over their break, etc., I commend you on the efforts that had to go into finalizing these arrangements and making peace with the new schedule.
To those of you who are just facing these holiday co-parenting challenges for the first time, I wanted to share some thoughts:
1. Helen Lovejoy was right.
We should be thinking of the children. The holiday season, Thanksgiving and Christmas break…these are magical moments for children and getting bogged down in the stress or fights over exactly how they will be spent detracts from that magic. Even if you are not so foolish as to try and discuss these issues with your children (which is hopelessly inappropriate), your stress still shows and they’ll still pick up on it. First off, never, ever, ever talk to your children about difficulties that you’re having making holiday arrangements, or tell them you’re sad that they won’t be there with you Christmas morning or anything of the like. They’re your children, let them stay that way. The world is going to do enough to disavow them of their innocence and hope; don’t speed up the process.
2. Do talk to somebody.
Separation and divorce are incredibly stressful and emotionally painful experiences. Going through them alone and maintaining some degree of self and sanity is nearly impossible. Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. Talk to your priest. Talk to your therapist. Talk to somebody. Anybody—(except your children). You can talk to your lawyer, too, but it’s best that you rely upon them for some education on your legal rights and responsibilities and not the emotional issues. We bill at a higher hourly rate than therapists and we’re never covered by insurance.
3. You should talk to your co-parent.
Now that you’ve talked out some of the emotional pain that goes with trying to navigate these new issues, it’s time to talk to somebody else, and that’s the other person, the person with whom you’re sharing custody of your children, not just for this holiday season, but for the rest of your lives. The sooner you can work out a schedule for how holiday custody will work and where the children will be over their break, the sooner you can close this chapter and move forward with actually enjoying the holiday season.
Not everyone can talk through their issues in a reasonable, productive manner. They may have to turn to lawyers or to the Courts for help.
Let me assure you of two things:
1. There is emergency Motions Court on December 22nd which will be filled with almost nothing but last minute motions trying to resolve Christmas custody disputes; and
2. You do not want to be there.
Please make the effort at resolution. If you can’t talk it through between yourselves, perhaps you can try mediating, or having your attorneys negotiate, but I assure you, you do not want to be litigating where your child eats dinner or opens a gift.
Divorce or separation from the parent of your children will be hard. Nobody can make it easy. Talking to the right people, learning the right information, and addressing your outstanding disputes in a timely manner will make it easier.
There is no cure for the hurt, but there are many proactive things you can do to try to minimize how that impacts you and your children and how you navigate the co-parenting relationship moving forward.
In all likelihood, you will share custody of your children. It’s almost a guarantee that you will share custody on the holidays. It will be necessary to make new traditions and work on moving forward. The better you do that, the more positive lessons you teach your children about how to work with others, to manage your emotions and hurt, and to move forward in a responsible manner. As I said above, life will do plenty to eat away at your children’s innocence and hope. Don’t help it. What you’re doing now is teaching them the skills to deal with those upsets that will happen in their own lives.
Teach them well and enjoy the holiday season.