Over the past few months, someone has been painting small rocks with kind words and leaving them around our neighborhood. The stones in question are the kind that could easily be picked up and thrown. They are small, perfectly sized for a hand. I've wondered who is leaving them about but realized that the message is more important than the messenger. Someone, perhaps a child, reminds us not to throw stones but rather to treat each other with kindness and respect.
As we enter the holiday season, these stones remind divorced parents to be kind to each other during the holiday season because this kindness is in the child's best interest. When a child who used to live with both parents is now living with one parent, both parents should keep an almost universal truth in mind – the child loves both parents. The child wants his family to be kind and respectful of each other.
During the Collaborative Divorce process, you and your team talked about the holidays and the need to keep the child's best interest in mind. You, your team, and your former spouse came to agreements about the holiday schedule. You also probably worked hard on a plan to make the holidays as "normal" as possible for the child. But, as the holidays approach, it will likely become clear that the situation is no longer the norm that it used to be.
For the first time, each parent may face the prospect of having their child not present for the usual family traditions. The child will feel the loss as well. The child will need support during this holiday season in a way that she has not required in the past. It is crucial to avoid expressing negative feelings about the ex-spouse in front of your child. Expressing these negative feelings in front of your child, even subtlety, will only undermine the child's well-being.
It is also crucial to avoid placing the child in a "loyalty bind" by making the child feel she has to choose a parent. Parents should not compete for the child's affection through gift-giving that undermines the other parent. The Collaborative Divorce process helps parents to learn to address these issues together. The holidays are the perfect time to put these skills into practice.
Supporting your child does not mean continuing to pretend that the family unit remains a whole. The child likely knows that is not accurate – even at a young age. It may be possible to maintain some traditions. Still, most specialists recommend finding ways to make new traditions for you and your child during the holidays. To the extent possible, parents should involve the child when establishing new traditions. Responding to the physical, social, and emotional age of the child is essential.
Also, it is necessary to be empathetic towards the child's feelings about her other parent. Even if the divorce finalized months before, the holidays are a time of heightened emotions. The parents must acknowledge that the child is trying to understand her new normal, which may involve seeing the parents separately, seeing one of the parents sporadically, or not seeing a parent if the parent is not safe. Empathy in this situation may be just acknowledging the child's emotions and possible sadness. It requires a level of kindness about the other parent that may be hard to express, but the child needs to hear. Above all, it requires that both of the parents do their very best to show kindness under trying circumstances.
If you had a Divorce Coach on your team during the Collaborative Divorce process, reach out to that person. You will likely find that a short conversation will go a long way toward helping you show empathy and kindness to your ex-spouse and your child, which will only help the child in the long-run. It will also help you to have a safe and joyous holiday season.