The holidays can be a stressful time for families, from wondering what to make for that perfect Christmas meal to finding the best gift. That stress can be made worse for families and children whose parents are separated or divorced.
Putting aside arguments and unresolved issues, and remembering that the holidays are about what’s in the best interest of the children can help make the holidays a memorable one, said Val Hemminger of Hemminger Law Group West Shore, which specializes in family law and personal injury.
“At Christmas time, it’s often a very high emotional time for families. If a family has recently separated, Christmas can be a very triggering time, so what we want to do as the responsible adults is to try and ensure that that time happens in a child-centred way that doesn’t traumatize the kids,” Hemminger said.
“Around holidays, if we [as parents] have a clear understanding of behavioural expectations, that can reduce the question marks of what to do.”
Here are a few tips to make the holidays enjoyable for your children:
1. If children are given a special gift or toy, they should be able to take it with them to the other parent’s house, should they choose.
“If you focus on the child’s best interest, it actually teaches them that it’s about them and that they have autonomy as well,” Hemminger said.
2. Children should not be on an airplane, bus or car for a long period of time on Christmas Day for the convenience of adults. Instead, focus on having two Christmases with each parent.
“Kids aren’t as hung up on Christmas Day as we are,” Hemminger said. “It takes away from that special day [when they’re travelling], a day that’s supposed to be for family and hanging out and having a good time. It’s shifting away from the best interest of the child and the focus is instead on the parent.”
3. Children should be allowed to love both parents without guilt or disapproval.
4. If there is a court battle, or parents are in a state of turmoil, children don’t need to know it. Just allow them to continue being kids, don’t let them take on adult duties or responsibilities. Any discussions about parents or court battles should be done away from a child.
“The message that should consistently be given to them is ‘both of your parents love you very much, our separation is not your fault and we’re going to work it out,’” Hemminger said.
5. Don’t let children be the messenger between parents. Never let a child carry child support cheques or notes between parents.
6. Kids should be able to celebrate various faith backgrounds of parents. For example, if one parent likes to go to church and the other doesn’t, the child should be allowed to celebrate that parent’s faith.
“It’s better to think that the child has an opportunity to celebrate different ways of being. It’s just a different perspective,” she said.
7. At their request, children should be able to contact the other parent and say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.
They should also be able to own pictures of parents and have them on their bedside table and vice versa.
Find the entire holiday edition of West Shore Family online.