Q: This is our first holiday since my kids’ dad and I split up. I still live in the family home that the kids have lived in all their lives. I kept most everything, including the decorations.
The kids are scheduled to be with their dad. He has very little furniture — the kids sleep on a single air mattress when they see him and he does not have a tree. Christmas has always been a big deal at our house. 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 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. It doesn’t mean you must spend the day together or even talk at great length. If you find yourself thinking, “Let him fall on his face,” 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.
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.
What makes the holidays magical for kids is how their parents approach the season — and the kids probably need a diversion from all the changes they’ve faced with their parents’ breakup. This means Dad may have to step out of his comfort zone to create a festive atmosphere now that he’s the activity director 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. 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. If you don’t have a tree, string the ornaments around the house. 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 breakup during the holidays — and any other time. If kids feel like they are “just visiting,” they are inclined to balk at going back.
Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of bonusfamilies.com.