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Home For The Holidays?

Written By Patricia Gerhardt, DEA – River Valley Extension District

While often heard in the media this time of year, the phrase “Home for the Holidays” can bring conflicting messages to the child of divorcing or recently divorced parents. On one hand, he/she is looking forward to the holidays and all the festivities connected to them. On the other hand, “home” may be quite different now. “Home” no longer consists of two parents, may be a different house, may involve different ‘new’ people, and the holiday routine may seem quite different to the child from what he/she experienced in the past.

As much as possible, keep holiday traditions and rituals alive. Continue those things that make the holiday special for your child. If possible, plan visits for your child with both sides of the extended family. Remember that grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles are a very special part of holiday celebrations and traditions. Encourage your child to participate in activities such as church/religious programs, doing things for others, baking cookies, and writing Christmas cards. These activities will help him to experience the true meaning of Christmas plus it will take his mind off of himself.

Most parents make adjustments and manage the challenges brought on by divorce, but children who spend half the time with one parent or the other, or who do not see one parent at all during the holidays, can have problems. These children can experience emotional stress and even depression because they want, need and expect contact with both parents. This is especially true during the holiday season. Children from divorcing or newly divorced households will need extra love and security. Parents can ensure these by being especially sensitive to the child and devoting extra time to the child and his/her needs.

To keep the holiday spirit alive and well in a divorcing household, parents need to remember to keep alive the family’s core values they are wanting to instill in their child. Don’t get carried away by holiday commercialism and avoid the temptation to compete for the child’s affection by giving expensive (or numerous) gifts. Show love through words and spending time with your child.

Avoid putting the child ‘on the spot’ by asking questions about the other parent. Children love and are loyal to both parents and should not feel torn between them. When parents say mean and unkind things about the other parent, children feel like they are being put down as well. If a child hears mom say “Dad is no good” and then hears dad say “Mom is no good”, the child may conclude “I am no good”.

It’s always important to follow through on commitments made to the child. During the holiday season this is especially vital. If it’s impossible to see or be with your child during the holidays, electronic media, including the telephone, is an option.

In a divorce, the adults become an “ex”—-ex-wife or ex-husband. There is no such thing, though, as an “ex-parent”. Once a parent, always a parent.

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