Q. This is our first Holiday since my kids’ dad and I split up. I still live in the family home that the kids have lived in all their lives. I kept most everything, including the decorations. The kids are scheduled to be with their dad this year. He has very little furniture—the kids sleep on a single air mattress when they see him and he does not have a tree. Christmas has always been a big deal at our house. The kids love their dad, but don’t want to spend Christmas at his home. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Help dad. The kids need both their parents. Granted, this isn’t what most parents who are no longer together think of, especially if this is the first year. That is the time many are the most angry and hurt and helping each other is the last thing they want to do. But, if you’re following good Ex-Etiquette for Parents and co-parenting, you do your best to “Put the kids first” (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1). It doesn’t mean you must spend the day together or even talk at great length. If you find yourself thinking, “Let him fall on his face, the miserable %$#@%” just remember, if he does, and the kids are going back and forth between homes, it’s the kids who are suffering, not just dad. Ask yourself if that’s what you really want.
That said, the person who moves after a break-up may have to start over by purchasing furniture and the bare necessities. Christmas decorations do not fall under “bare necessities,”and Dad may not see the importance of creating a holiday atmosphere in his new home. If he just sees the kids on the weekends, getting organized for school would not be a concern, so a more casual approach might be okay for now. Sometimes weekend visits are filled with hanging out, popping some popcorn and watching movies. Air mattresses work for that just fine. But, beware. If there is a vast difference between homes, you’ll hear about it from the kids. Getting organized is an important component to keeping the kids feeling safe and secure–and if they want to return.
What makes the holidays magical for kids is how their parents approach the season—and the kids probably need a diversion from all the changes they’ve faced with their parent’s break-up. IThis means dad may have to step out of his comfort zone to create a festive atmosphere now that he’s the activity director in his new home. There are some simple, but inexpensive things he can do that won’t require furniture or even a tree.
For example, most kids love to bake and do crafts—both boys and girls. Establish a new tradition by making construction paper rings in Christmas colors one night the kids are over, or make molding dough and use cookie cutters to make tree ornaments. You can find a recipe on the internet. If you don’t have a tree, string the ornaments around the house. It’s cheap and getting the kids involved will help them feel like Dad’s new home is their home, too. If the craft idea doesn’t work for your family, figure out something that does. It’s the time you spend with them, not what you buy them.
The bottom line, divorced parents must be proactive in creating a positive atmosphere of “home” after the break-up,during the Holidays–and any other time. If kids feel like they’re “just visiting,” they are inclined to balk at going back. So, Dad, it may be out of your comfort zone, but put some thought into how you can create a holiday atmosphere in your new home this year. And, Mom, you don’t win if the kids want to stay with you. They need both parents. Support him in his efforts at being a success—for the sake of the kids you share. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families..