Ex-etiquette: First holiday after a breakup is rough

Q: The kids’ father and I broke up only three months ago and it’s been rough on us all. This is the first holiday we will be spending in different homes and not only do I feel the added stress, but I think the kids are feeling it, too. Got any tips to help us help them through this tough time?

A: First and foremost? Get organized! Children become even more anxious when they perceive their parents (both bonus and biological) are angry, floundering, and disorganized. Getting organized will ensure that your kids feel safe and secure and they will be more able to accept the inevitable changes that come when parents go their separate ways.

There are some other things divorced parents can do that will help ease their children’s transition from house to house during the holidays. Notice I didn’t say “suggestions for parents to cope with the holidays.” It should be your goal to create an environment where your children can flourish; therefore, you have to make the necessary changes. Your children’s ability to cope is a result of the positive changes you make.

Here are some tips to help:

■Have reasonable expectations. The holidays can lift our spirits, but also be the catalyst for anxiety and depression. Don’t stress about “the way it used to be.” Let your children know the holiday will now be different, but different doesn’t have to mean “bad.”

■Coordinate efforts with your child’s other parent well in advance of the holiday exchange. Know exactly what time your child will leave (or when you will pick them up) and plan for it — bags packed at the door rather than scrambling around at the last minute helps to calm anxious children.

■Don’t ruin your children’s holiday by undermining the other parent’s good intentions. Coordinate gift giving. If you can’t agree upon the gifts your will give your children, follow the rules of good ex-etiquette for parents and look for the compromise.

■Do not call your child every five minutes to check up or remind him or her that he or she is the most important thing in your life. If your child is truly the most important thing in your life, allow him to settle in at his other parent’s home so they can enjoy their time together. A constant reminder that you miss your baby is not putting your child first — it’s putting your child in the middle.

■Avoid saying things like, “I’m going to miss you so much.” Even if you are, saying so just makes the transition from house to house more difficult for your child. They will worry you are not happy or lonely and if they stick around you might be okay. Your well-being is not their responsibility — but their well-being depends on you. Give them a hug and tell them you love them and then send them on their way. Agree on a time you will check in and stick to it.

■Don’t stew over the agreement you just made. “I should have said this.” Or, “I should have held out for more time.” Be the example. That’s good ex-etiquette. Your children will follow your lead.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com