Why you need to put YOUR issues aside and let your kids be kids!
For way too many children of divorce, the holidays aren’t very merry at all. Instead, of being a season of fun and magic, it becomes a season filled with confusion, guilt and worry.
Kids of divorce experience confusion because they have a hard time keeping track of schedules of when they’re going to be with Mom, when they’re going to be with Dad, and when they’re going to be with their friends. I witnessed this confusion and guilt first-hand with my “bonus sons” (a.k.a. stepsons) the first time we all spent a holiday together. Not only did our youngest, Cameron (who was only 13 at the time) need to fly across the country during the hectic holiday season (changing planes along the way); his adult brother, Anthony, had to come with him to make sure Cam arrived safe and sound. Though both boys were extremely happy to spend time with their dad, they went through a lot of stress while the adults in their lives got to remain right where we were.
During their visit, I innocently asked the boys about their Christmas. And wow, it was as if I’d hit a switch. Both of them became very quiet, their faces went blank and they gave me an obligatory “It was fine.” I was genuinely interested in hearing about how wonderful their Christmas had been, but they just weren’t comfortable talking about it—especially with their dad within earshot. They also kept asking when they were supposed to leave, not clear on what the schedule was at which house (making it impossible for them to relax and just “be” where they were). As a new (and admittedly nervous) stepmom, I empathized with how complex it was for them, as children of divorce, to just have a simple, light-hearted holiday when they were saddled with so much to navigate (emotionally and logistically).
Here is what I came to realize about what children of divorce go through during the holidays:
Kids with divorced parents often feel the need to be actors
They don’t want to upset Mom by talking about Dad in front of her, and they don’t want to upset Dad by talking about Mom in front of him. So instead, they learn to act like their other parent isn’t as important as the parent they’re with right now. The pressure to continue the charade amps up around the holidays, and then the guilt creeps in. They don’t feel they can share happily and unapologetically about the fun and good memories they’ve experienced with the other parent.
Kids feel guilty about leaving one parent alone
Many children feel more responsible for their parents after divorce than they ever did before. Many of these kids feel bad (like they’re betraying one parent) if they look forward to celebrating with the other parent. And when a parent adds on: “Oh, I’ll miss you terribly. It won’t be the same without you”, kids end up toting around mounds of guilt about that parent being “all alone” for the holidays.
Kids feel guilty asking for gifts they think their divorced parents can’t afford
Kids quickly become aware post-divorce that money is tight (which is often the case for at least one parent). Children are subjected to all kinds of messaging on TV and by their friends throughout the holiday season touting fabulous vacations and the hottest toys. But many kids of divorced couples worry that if they ask for what they really want, either mom or dad won’t be able to afford it. They worry there won’t be enough money left over to cover other necessities or that their gift requests make them seem greedy, or that their parent who can’t provide will feel bad. That’s certainly a lot of worry for a kid to carry around … especially over the holidays (a time of year that is supposed to be magical for children).
Kids of divorce need OUR help to make their holidays stress-free and wonderful.
It’s up to us, their parents (biological and “bonus”) to help make the holidays what they are meant to be—fun, relaxing and special. We need to be okay—really, genuinely okay—with knowing our kids love their other parent (and even their other “bonus parent”) and that it’s okay for our children to have fun with them.
Here are 4 ways to take away guilt and worry for your children this holiday:
1. Stop focusing on lack
While a tight budget is a very, very real thing for many divorced parents, there is no reason to focus on what you don’t have. Instead, have fun figuring out how to create wonderful memories with your kids by making the most of what you do have. You might want to create new holiday traditions and memories by watching movies snuggled up on the couch together, having a snowball fight indoors with stale marshmallows, baking and decorating cookies together and even reading stories together while sipping hot chocolate. What kids actually remember (after the pricey gifts are opened and are quickly forgotten) is the time you spent together and how that time with you made them feel. So, make that time feel merry!
2. Spare them the “I’ll be all alone” guilt trip
Make sure your kids know that you have exciting plans (that you’re actually looking forward to) while they’re gone. Whether that’s an invitation to hang out with other friends or family … or you simply savoring your alone time with indulgences like reading a great book, relaxing in a long bubble bath, or enjoying your favorite foods. Whatever you put on your itinerary, sharing it excitedly with your kids gives them permission to be excited about their holiday plans, too.
3. Eliminate confusion about where the kids will be and when
This one is fairly easy to remedy with a calendar (that travels with the children) mapping out the time they’ll spend at each of their homes. That’s one thing that I wish I’d known about when my stepson was still a kid. It goes a long way toward helping kids be able to plan what they want to do, too.
4. Your child loves their other parent—deal with it!
Another part of our job as parents, especially during the holiday season, is to get really comfortable and okay with the fact that your child can love their other parent and still love you. Your kids might even love their “bonus parents”. Your acceptance of this is the first essential step in your kids feeling free to enjoy healthy relationships with all the adults in their lives.
Your kids are counting on YOU to make their holidays magical
After the first awkward holiday spent with my stepsons, we rarely had another holiday moment spoiled by any of the kids feeling confusion or guilt (because we worked hard to create an environment that freed them from those feelings). Of course, they’re both adults now, but we’ve all made an effort over the years to encourage the boys to enjoy the holidays and look at them as opportunities for double the presents, double the fun, and double the love … but never double the guilt or worry. This is what I wish all kids with divorced parents received during the holidays—double the presents, double the fun, and double the LOVE.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
This article originally appeared on YourTango.
It’s only natural to feel some anger when a marriage breaks down to the point of no return. It is understandable to be angry when feeling betrayed by anyone, especially a spouse or ex-spouse. Anger is such a powerful emotion that sometimes it is nearly impossible to keep it to ourselves, even during moments when we know we should. This is not to say that anger should be avoided or hidden. Recognizing and dealing with anger is an important part of healing and moving on from a divorce. There are right times, right places and right ways to acknowledge, express and work through anger towards your ex-spouse…none of which are in front of your children!
Regardless of how angry you are and regardless of how justified your anger might be towards the other parent, burdening your children with your anger towards the other parent is not only unfair to your children but can cause them very serious emotional harm.
Children naturally love both of their parents, regardless of their adult mistakes and regardless of how flawed or imperfect the parents may be. When one parent disparages the other parent to or in front of a child, it is like a knife in that child’s heart. Disparaging the other parent to or in front of a child can present itself in many forms including the following…
- Making verbal comments that insult, ridicule, discredit or disrespect the other parent. This includes comments about the other parent’s physical appearance, financial status, employment or any other aspect of that parent’s life.
- Physical gestures or body language that implies the other parent is not worthy of respect. This can include gestures such as eye rolling or loud sighs or sarcastic laughs or even a certain tone of voice that implies a negative message regarding the other parent.
- Actions of custody interference towards the other parent out of anger or to seek revenge. This includes any behavior that crosses the appropriate boundaries established by separation or divorce. Some examples include obsessive and intrusive questioning about time spent with the other parent, frequent interruptions of time spent with the other parent and refusal to comply with the custody schedule.
In addition to children naturally loving both parents, children also naturally want to please and have approval from both of their parents. Burdening children with your anger towards the other parent places your children in an impossible loyalty bind by making them feel that may must choose to support and endorse your anger. While on the outside your child may seem supportive and in agreement with your hostility, it is a fact that on the inside your angry words and actions against their other parent are breaking your child’s heart. As if children of divorce don’t have enough to deal with, these inappropriate actions towards the other parent known as “alienating behaviors” causes children additional unnecessary stress. Just as a train without brakes picks up momentum, alienating behaviors pick up steam and escalate if the brakes are not put on. Sadly, alienating behaviors gone out of control ultimately lead to lifelong emotional and relationship issues for the children who are unfairly put “in the middle” of parents with unresolved and misdirected anger. Studies show that children put into this situation often suffer from anxiety, depression, substance abuse, self-harm and thoughts of suicide.
To not engage in alienating behaviors, separated or divorced parents must learn how to interact in a healthy way under the circumstances of no longer being in the same household. This is known as co-parenting. We must be realistic that this can be easier said than done at times so it’s important to utilize tools to help us navigate through the anger without making our children casualties of our adult issues.
Fortunately, there are tools and resources available to specifically help in this area. A few tools and resources that can help are as follows…
- Counseling or therapy with a licensed professional. Recognize that if you are unable to stop yourself from exposing your children to any alienating behaviors due to your anger, YOU need help! Again, it is understandable to feel anger when a relationship ends especially if you feel betrayed. There is no shame in needing help to deal with and get through such a painful time in your life. Take an honest look at your behaviors and do what you need to do improve your emotional health for the sake of your children.
- Co-parenting classes. Due to recent awareness of the damaging effects of alienating behaviors on children, co-parenting classes are readily available. Co-parenting classes can be found through community centers, counseling offices, life coaches and other resources. Classes can be taken in person or online. Obviously, it takes both parents to commit to properly co-parenting. It might be difficult or sometimes impossible to get the other parent to commit to co-parenting. If you are still going through the divorce process, ask your attorney to have co-parenting classes court ordered to be completed by both parents before the divorce is finalized. One example of co-parenting classes can be found at http://www.childreninthemiddle.com/.
- Co-parenting communication tools. Establishing and following proper boundaries is the key to co-parenting. To properly co-parent is to “stick to the business of parenting” and to not cross the new boundaries put into place by divorce. A co-parenting communication tool such as Our Family Wizard can be invaluable in this regard. Co-parenting communication tools such as Our Family Wizard provides parents with email accounts, calendars, file sharing and other resources tailored to facilitate proper and respectful co-parenting with appropriate boundaries. Children can also be engaged with the use of email accounts and calendars while utilizing filters that prevent the children from being burdened with the adult communications and decisions. Using co-parenting tools such as Our Family Wizard can alleviate a lot of stress and anxiety when trying to establish and honor the boundaries of proper co-parenting. If you’re still going through the divorce process, ask your attorney to have the use of a co-parenting communication tool court ordered in your final divorce decree. A resource such as Our Family Wizard simplifies co-parenting by giving parents the tools needed to “stick to the business of parenting.” For more information about Our Family Wizard, visit http://www.ourfamilywizard.com/ofw/.
Your children love and want a relationship with the other parent even if you no longer love or want a relationship with the other parent. Not only do your children want a relationship with their other parent, they NEED a relationship with their other parent. It is not about you or about your anger towards the other parent. It is about the health and well-being of your children.
The bottom line is you must put your love for your children above your anger towards their other parent. Putting your love for your children above your anger towards their other parent is the greatest gift you will ever give your children and while you might not believe it today, someday you will see it was also one of the greatest gifts you ever gave yourself.
For more information about co-parenting, alienating behaviors and parental alienation please contact Wendy Archer of Parental Alienation Awareness Organization USA at firstname.lastname@example.org. The North Texas Chapter of Parental Alienation Awareness Organization USA holds monthly meetings on the 2nd Wednesday of every month in Southlake Texas. More information can be found by joining the PAAO USA North Texas Chapter facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/paaonorthtexas/.
Your Functional Divorce Coaching Assignment:
How have you inadvertently let your anger about your divorce affect your children? This is a tough question. No one is a perfect parent regardless of whether or not they’re dealing with divorce. The purpose of this question is to allow you to examine where you might be able to improve your parenting. After all, it’s awareness that is the first part of changing for the better.
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