Whether you are a new divorcee or have been divorced for years, blending child custody and the desire to spend holidays with the children you both love can lead to long discussions, hard decisions, and hurt feelings, not only for the adults but for the children. Many couples include holidays and summer vacations in their Parenting Plan or Custody Agreement. Others, however, wait until the day arrives realizing far too late the situation they have placed themselves in and the effect it will have on the children. Although the holidays are over, hurt feelings and the pain of missing out remains – for the parent and for the child.
Pulled from friends, family, and a home in which they feel safe during the holidays can lead to emotional trauma and anxiety. Returning home to the custodial parent after an extended or lengthy absence can trigger another period of adjustment – for the parent and for the child. Children can appear stand-offish, quiet, or withdrawn. Responses can be short, questions unanswered, and personalities unfamiliar. Spending fall and winter holidays with a parent they see once or twice a month is common in custodial agreements. Even children who go back and forth each weekend are affected by the choices parents make. Do toys travel back and forth or remain in one place, did both parents agree to Santa bringing a cellphone, and who said little Johnny could have a dog?
Divorcees re-marry adding step-mothers and step-fathers, half-brothers and half-sisters, new environments, new cultures, new customs, and new rules. Adolescents and teens appear to be more receptive, yet they require open communications and as much forewarning as young children and toddlers. The challenge is even greater for parents who reside in different cities or states. Often the custodial parent has no knowledge of the environment or living conditions their child experienced. Many have never met the ex-spouse’s new family or have knowledge of how their child will fit in. Putting a child on a bus, a train, or a plane to spend the holidays with someone you don’t know can be painful, particularly if there is a lack of trust. Improving Lives Counseling Services can help. Our team of professionals provide post-holiday mental-health check-ups for children, adolescents, and teens in individual, family, and group sessions.
Upcoming and post-holiday co-parenting can be eased with a few prerequisites. Establishing an open line of communication, keeping each parent informed of changes or additions to the immediate family, and setting a schedule and following it is one. Preparing a child by setting expectations, explaining differing customs, rules, duties and responsibilities, and letting them know before the holidays where they would be and what travel arrangements are made is another. Yet flights can be canceled, conversations misinterpreted, and plans changed. When things don’t go as discussed or planned, a child can be confused or confrontational. Dad gave more freedom, let them stay up late, and authorized more computer time. Mom bought expensive toys, took them to fancy restaurants, and let them watch a movie dad said was off limits.
Returning home children might find classmates, neighbors, and friends talking about missed events like Christmas concerts and plays, holiday parties, and special events missed due to a custodial agreement and travel plans. Dates and times of upcoming events were shared with the ex-spouse, yet adjustments could not be made. Discussions and conversations were positive and upbeat – the children know they are loved and the importance of having both parents in their lives, yet they are disappointed and feel left out. Toddlers and young children are less affected than older children, adolescents, and teens who place more importance on friends, extra-curricular activities, and extended relationships.
Navigating the world of co-parenting is challenging before, during, and after the holiday season. Parents can be fixated on a specific day, week, or holiday – if missed, they are hurt. No parent wants to bully their child, yet when they return home the questioning begins, and the child shuts down. A post-holiday mental health check-up doesn’t mean the child was hurt or abused. It is simply a way of keeping a young mind healthy. Improving Lives Counseling Services counselors and therapists provide behavioral screenings and assessments using kid-friendly techniques in a safe environment. Mom was crying when I left, dad wanted me to stay an extra week, mom was lonely and all alone, dad has a new family and a bigger home. Children of divorced parents can be stressed and emotionally drained following the holiday season. We can help. Call us to learn more.