The holidays are billed as a time to rejoice, but for moms and dads who are newly separated or divorced, it may feel like they have special challenges. Janice D’Arcy spoke with clinical psychologist Edward Farber last week about this subject, and today I am highlighting some advice from separated and divorced parents who offer their own spin on celebrating happily with family.
Erin Mantz, 42, is a public relations manager for a health association who lives in Potomac, Md. She and her ex-husband have two boys, ages 7 and 11. Because they believe the first and last night of Hanukkah are the most important, they arrange their schedule so each parent gets the children for one of those nights each year, and then the following year they switch the nights. They also coordinate on the gifts that they give the boys and often buy at least one present together.
Mantz’s advice: “Get everything spelled out in the separation agreement, so you always have a master document to refer to. Try to envision what you will want to do on holidays, where your other family is, and what’s reasonable for travel arrangements and time off work, etc. Plan ahead! But always try to be reasonable, respectful and kind. Set the stage so the kids still love and celebrate the holidays.”
Elizabeth Waters, 48, is a clinical social worker who lives in the District. She is divorced and is now remarried with three kids. She shares custody of her 13-year-old daughter with her ex-husband.
Waters’s advice: “We alternate spending the holiday with our daughter every year, which means that one of us always has the freedom to travel. While alternating the holidays does mean that one must make peace with not seeing one’s child/children for half of the holidays, it does free one up to make other plans with partner, friends, and/or other children.”
Psychotherapist Ann Turner, 44, lives in Bethesda. She and her husband have been separated for three years, and they have two daughters, ages 13 and 10. The children sleep at their mother’s house on Christmas Eve, and their father either sleeps over as a guest or comes over on Christmas morning to eat breakfast and open presents.
Turner’s advice: “Try at least initially to keep as much the same as before for the sake of the kids even if it may not be your preference. Or, if that’s not realistic, agree as a couple to split the holiday so each parent gets time with the kids. Or, a third option is to create a new tradition with your kids as a single parent and let the kids in on defining the tradition. Let them feel like they have some sense of control over family time during a period where there’s little they can control about their parents’ relationship.”
Candace Smyth shares custody of her 7-year-old daughter with her ex-husband. Smyth, who lives in the District, is a family mediator who started her own practice after she couldn’t find the help she needed when she was going through her own divorce.
Smyth says that she and her ex-husband have a very flexible co-parenting arrangement and that they alternate holidays with the children throughout the year.
Smyth’s advice: “Trust your instincts. Remind yourself that your child or children matter and they just want to be loved. If they can have all of their family together, that would be their choice, most likely. Since it isn’t possible, you have to do what is possible. Choose love over any resentment or anger. Don’t let your ego get in the way of making a loving decision. Try to work it out, give when you can because if you are able to give it will come back to you ten-fold. The holidays can be as beautiful, loving and joyful as we believe they are.”
Jennifer Kogan is a clinical social worker in Northwest Washington who works with kids, teens and parents.