Divorce. I have been there and done that, along with 19 million other adults in this country. Although it has lost some of its stigma over the years, divorce hasn't lost any of its heartache. As a divorced parent, nothing is more heartbreaking than watching the impact of divorce on your children. They are usually the last to know, and the most affected.
But even more painful is the first time you have to spend a holiday apart from your children. As busy professionals, a holiday is one of the few times we can break the routine and spend significant quality time with our loved ones. Having to forfeit this time with my children was, for me, strange and empty (sad is an understatement).
What’s a working parent to do?
So, how can we minimize the pain and make the holidays most enjoyable for our children and ourselves? As a corporate strategist, my success comes from knowing how to see issues from my client's perspective. As a parent, I needed to do the same thing for my children. Having observed both healthy and unhealthy post-divorce families, my suggestions are derived from seeing divorce from a child's point of view. The key thing to remember is that we divorced our spouses, but not our children. Efforts should be made to ensure their happiness, which in turn will help ensure our own.
Keep it simple
Divorce is traumatic enough for children, without adding unnecessary complexity to their schedule. Decide early on who will take the children on which holiday, and avoid splitting the day (one of you has them in the morning and one in the evening). Splitting the day is disruptive to everyone's celebration because the anticipation of knowing you have to go somewhere else makes it hard to enjoy the few hours you do have together.
It's highly recommended that if you have two or more children, you don't split them up. Whether they express it or not, children support and comfort each other. Splitting them decreases their sense of security and connection.
A phone call in the morning to say hello and wish them a great day is a must to help them feel OK about being away from you for that special day. But don't lay guilt on the children by telling them how much you wish they could be with you instead. Just wish them a great time and tell them you look forward to seeing them when they return.
Most importantly is that both parents send a consistent message to the children that the holidays are still a special and great time of year — even though both parents won't be sharing it together.
Your child is watching, listening and responding!
Our children learn culture, character and esteem from us. They take cues about what is acceptable from what we do, not necessarily from what we say. The way you handle yourself and your relationship with your former spouse will be the way your children learn to handle complex issues and relationships in their own lives.
So, even after the holiday, move forward productively by bagging the bitterness! Instead, focus on taking away helpful lessons from your marriage experience. Then, use this new knowledge to become better. Despite the reasons you divorced, your mental attitude is critical to not only surviving, but thriving as a family. If you have the right mindset, then you can feel confident that you and your children will be all right.
Take care of yourself
If you are not with your children this holiday, make sure you spend the day with supportive family and/or friends. Avoid "the downers", as I like to call them — friends who speak negatively to you about your ex-spouse in order to arouse your anger. Spend time with those who love you and want to help you move on by giving you new and better things to talk about.
E. R. Reid is the author of "STOP My Childhood From Drowning! 39 Lessons From A Child Experiencing Divorce"; and the president of Philip-Reid
Strategy Consultants, a strategy consulting company that specializes in helping people through life transitions. For more information, visit www.erreid.com or www.fruitol.com.