I came across this wonderful little scroll, Children’s Divorce Bill of Rights, on Pinterest the other day. (I think someone created it based on an blog at Psychology Today, though I didn’t seem to see the graphic there) I was reminded about how many divorces seem to happen just after the holidays. We’ve had so much fun playing with our Zany Wacky Santa, but for many kids fun time is over now.
I thought the Children’s Divorce Bill of Rights should go into every divorcing parent’s tool box! It goes so much with what I am trying to tell people all of the time. Divorce is tough. It is tough on the parents because they are going through changes emotionally, and likely financially. Stress is at probably an all time high! But I think so often we forget that though we are going through the trauma, our kids are going through it even more. They are often being put in the middle. And though you may think your ex is (insert whatever you want here!), your child still loves them and wants them as their parent. There is absolutely no reason to bad mouth the other parent in front of your child, no matter WHAT you perceive they are doing. If it is a dangerous situation, then involve professional help, but even then it is probably best to keep your mouth shut. They didn’t like it when you argued in front of them when you were married, and they certainly aren’t going to like it now. They just want to be kids. They want to be able to live their life as close to the life they just involuntarily gave up as possible. They should be allowed to be kids………..therefore they are not your sounding board, they can’t solve your problems. And…..whatever you do, do NOT put them in the middle and at any point make them choose. As much as you might think it is giving them the right, having to choose one parent over another is a heart wrenching experience no child should have to endure. I love this scroll. And I think this scroll, along with the picture book We’re Having A Tuesday, and the parenting book, Mom’s House, Dad’s House, you should be armed to be off to a good start.
We’re Having A Tuesday will help parents and children of divorce. It begins a conversation, by opening up pathways to talk with children about the effects of living in a shared custody situation. Kids who are living the all too familiar experience of living in two houses easily relate to the story where the little girl is acting out and having to remind herself of the good things about both houses. Parents or other bystanders (teachers, counselors, grandparents, caregivers) can relate to this wonderful story about a little girl bouncing between her parents, as she struggles with living between two homes. She misses simple things like her dogs, her bike and even sometimes her clothes. She misses things about Mommy. She misses things about Daddy. Some of her behaviors reflect it. She eventually discovers that her parents’ love is with her no matter where she is living. The story refers to her carrying their love in a very special kind of backpack wherever she goes. (Her heart.) It is a great reminder that the love between parent and child doesn t change because of divorce. This book beautifully illustrates a touching story and includes an interactive element at the end to facilitate conversation about how kids are feeling about their shared custody living arrangements. It’s perfect for kids 2-10 years of age. And it will help start a conversation to help your kids deal with their new arrangements. Remember your child didn’t ask for these changes. They just were just going along happy being a kid!
So you think you’re moving along and adapting to your new split-family living situation, but then wham, how will you handle the children and the holidays after divorce. You take your children to their Dad (Mom) on Tuesday and you’ll see them again on Saturday. It is a bumpy cycle and much to be learned, but you’re getting the hang of it.
Then what do you spy on your calendar as you turn the page? The next major holiday doesn’t fall on Tuesday? It doesn’t fall on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday either. You realize you are going to have to go dig out those divorce papers and see what year it is and if it’s odd or even and if you get to see your children or if you’ll be attending that holiday function without kids in tow. So what can you do to make split-family living better during the holidays?
- Have Fun! Remember that even though this is a transition time in your lives it is still the holiday season and it should be FUN! Read silly books together with your kids, like Santa’s (Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right!) Night Before Christmas. Watch old movies and Christmas specials. Bake cut out cookies. Go look at Christmas lights. Sing Christmas Carols. Play in the snow if you have it. Make snowflakes if you don’t. Do anything to lighten the mood. It is still supposed to be FUN!
- Communicate. Communication is key to everything, and the holidays are no exception. Talk to your kids and ex-spouse. Maybe the every other year thing is too confusing. Maybe your kids are feeling left out. They might even feel guilty that Mom or Dad is alone. See if you can work on a schedule that works better. Some families opt to split the holidays by time, so that a child is with one parent until 2:00 and the other for the remainder of the day. Some opt to split the holidays so that the kids know that every Thanksgiving they will be with Mom and her family for the entire day, but that every Easter or some other holiday they spend it with Dad and his family. That allows traditions to build and nobody has to stop right in the middle of the fun. A book like We’re Having A Tuesday will also help your kids communicate any feelings they may be having about missing out on one thing or another.
- Put your differences aside. Maybe for a day, an hour, but do whatever you can. If you can manage to go to a pumpkin patch and carve pumpkins great. If you can only handle opening gifts all together, so be it. If it means sharing a piece of holiday pie and some eggnog, great! Any amount of time you can spend all together will be the biggest gift you can possibly give to your kids. Remember you are doing it for them.
- Plan Ahead. Don’t be agreeing to the schedule the night before. Inevitably there will be a child eating back to back turkey if there is no plan.
- Be flexible and reasonable, and keep your word. If you plan to have your child home at 2:00 and it’s 2:15, don’t make a big fuss to your ex-spouse. Things have a way of taking a little longer than expected during the holidays. But don’t purposely ignore the agreed upon schedule. That only sets your child up to be caught in the middle of your frustrations.
- Agree on gift giving methods. Will you each be buying gifts separately or together? Will you coordinate so you don’t both give the same thing? Who will take the children shopping to purchase gifts for each of their parents? How will they be paid for? It is perfectly acceptable to teach your children the art of giving, even if it means you are buying a robe for your ex-wife.
- Establish new traditions. You can incorporate old ones if you wish, but it might be time to start some new ones. Maybe every holiday morning you will serve homemade cinnamon rolls. Maybe birthdays will now always be celebrated by waking up with balloons. It is good to incorporate new so that whatever might be missing from the old might not be as missed.
- Let the love shine. Allow your child to communicate with the missing parent. Maybe it will be a quick telephone call, maybe it will be a quick pick up to walk around the block. In any case, your child is possibly celebrating a holiday without one of the most important people in their life. It’s okay for them to want to share part of it with them.