Q: This is our first holiday since my kids’ dad and I split up. I live in the family home the kids have lived in all their lives. I kept most everything, including the decorations. The kids are scheduled to be with their dad for Christmas, which is a big deal at our house. He has very little furniture — the kids sleep on a single air mattress when they see him and he does not have a tree. 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 are following good Ex-Etiquette for Parents and co-parenting, you “Put the kids first” (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1). 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 breakup 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 here 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 the changes they’ve faced with their parent’s breakup. This means dad may have to step out of his comfort zone to create a festive atmosphere 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, kids love 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.
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 are “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, maybe just this year, look for ways to help him be a success at it — for the sake of the kids you share. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Email Dr. Jann Blackstone at the Ex-Etiquette website, exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org