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You can assure your children that you will always love them and care for them, but a first Christmas post-divorce will be hard for them. A marriage lawyer in Scotland found that the holiday was one of the most contentious issues to be settled post-divorce.

"Christmas is always a problem,” Lesley-Anne Barnes said. She lectures in family law at Napier University in Edinburgh. “We would raise Christmas issues in October to try to get something in writing.”

Research by the Children's Society, a charity in England, shows that more than a quarter of children between the ages of 14 and 16 said they felt depressed, with one in ten being diagnosed with a mental health disorder. There are fears that the breakdown of marriages has led to a doubling of teenagers with emotional and behavioral problems from 1974 to 1999. And holiday season, with the stress of family get-togethers, and high expectations, can lead to an increase in behavior problems.

So you can make every effort to provide your children with the best emotional environment and a happy holiday season, but they may well be thinking of happy holidays past, and not know what to expect as children of divorce.

Below are a few suggestions on how to deal with your child’s stress during the holiday season.

Listen, Hear and Validate

Many children don’t express their concerns with a parent out of fear of upsetting her. Be sure your children know that you are available to talk, no matter what they feel the need to say. If they think that great Aunt Edna smells bad, you can assure them they won’t have to sit near her, while also cautioning them to be generous and forgiving of older people and their problems.

Show your children that you understand how they are feeling and that their feelings are acceptable. Being available to listen to them, putting effort into hearing what your children say and validating their feelings will relieve an enormous amount of the stress in the family.

Play Nice

Be cordial with your ex during the holidays. Your behavior at this important time of the year will provide your children with hope that their parents can at least be friends. Parents who get along give their children the most important gift they will ever receive, during the holidays and every other day of the year. So, step up and take the high road or your children’s sake.

Involve Your Child in Decision Making

When parents divorce, children feel a lack of control. They have no voice in whether or not their family stays together. During Thanksgiving and Christmas giving your children some control over how they spend their time lessens the stress of feeling out of control.

This can be especially important for older children. They may be scheduled to spend time with the non-custodial parent when they would rather be hanging out with their friends. Give your child the option of bringing a friend along or planning activities with friends during their time with you. Take advantage of holiday visitation, but allow your child to have an active role in planning any activities you will be doing together.

Create New Holiday Traditions

Do away with holiday traditions that cause emotional pain for the children. Create new traditions that your children can look forward to in your home. Encourage their father to create his own traditions to share in the home he is making for them.

Love Your Child First

When George Strait sang, “If it weren’t for my two kids, I'd hate my ex-wife,” he knew what he was singing about. You may not be able to manage it at other times but during the holidays, you need to love your children more than you hate your ex-spouse. The holidays aren’t about getting even with your ex, they are about finding joy and working together for the children. Be an adult and put the needs and desires of your children above your needs and desires and you and your children will have holidays filled with seasonal spirit, joy and love.

Showing your children compassion for the pain they are experiencing and teaching them coping strategies will not only help them through this first, post-divorce holiday season, but long after.


Related Content:

Raising Your Kids After Divorce, a six part series by child psychiatrist, Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld

The Role of Children In Divorce, by divorce attorney, Susan Reach Winters

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  • Comment Link Guest Friday, 25 December 2009 14:43 posted by Guest

    Make every effort to provide them with best emotional environmt: Here are a few suggestions on how to deal with the additional stress during this particular holiday and how to satisfy your children’s needs at this time:

    * Show them you understand their feelings and worries: “I know you’re going to feel sad sometimes this Christmas and maybe a little angry and worried too. It’s going to feel different not being together like we have been. Things will be different this year.”
    * Offer them encouraging words: “You know, we all know how to have a good time together at Christmas. Your dad and I are going to think about all those good times, and we’d like you both to think back to them too. Even though it won’t be the same, I know we can all enjoy each other at Christmas time and that your dad and I can each do some fun things with you over vacation. It’s not going to be the same but we’re going to make it good.”
    * Be cordial with your ex over the holidays. Your behavior during this traditional family time can provide your kids with some hope that you two can and will be cordial with each other in the future.
    * Talk with your ex about gifts so your children won’t be overindulged or let down.
    * Your kids are old enough to ask directly how they want to celebrate the holidays, given your changed family structure. Asking them what they want to do can lead to a natural discussion of what they’re thinking and feeling.
    * Create some new holiday traditions that your kids can look forward to doing with you. Encourage your ex to create his own different traditions as well.
    * Keep all extended family, grandparents, etc. involved during the holidays (even if it can only be through email, cards, phone calls). They are still an integral part of your children’s lives and provide them with continuity and security in the face of your changed family structure.
    * If you have done so before, continue to help your children select a present for your ex.
    * Don’t communicate negative feelings about your ex through your words or behavior. Your kids will be taking their cues from the both of you.