How to Have a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season
TIPS FOR PARENTS GOING THROUGH A DIVORCE
by: Lisette N. Beraja, LMFT
The holiday season is such a special moment especially for children. Children are looking forward to celebrating, spending time with family, friends and mostly receiving gifts from loved ones. November and December are the hardest months of the year for most families experiencing a separation or divorce. Providing the right guidance and education in dealing with these life changes is critical for these families. When I meet with parents experiencing a separation or divorce during the month of December, this topic is always addressed. Whether my role is that of a Guardian ad Litem, Parenting Coordinator, Co-Parenting Therapist, Reunification Therapist, Collaborative Facilitator or serving as the role of a Mental Health Professional, this topic is significant. Some cases are not complex, while others, may need my intervention or the Courts intervention. I try to make it as simple and easy as possible placing the children’s needs first. I remind the parents that as hard as it is for them the grown-ups, it is even harder on the children.
I remind the parents to set aside their feelings and try to work together on planning a pleasant holiday experience given the circumstances. They can either choose to celebrate holidays together or separately. Every case is unique depending on their history, current situation, and any Court Orders in place. Then, I begin by providing them different options so they can work on agreeing on a holiday timesharing schedule. If attorneys are involved and there are Court Orders in place and consents signed, I work closely with the attorneys. Otherwise, I work directly with the parents, and they work on creating a schedule. If they are unable to work together, providing them with different options may give them ideas. I provide them with different scenarios, and they are amazed at how creative they can be given their life changes.
Recently, I was asked to be part of a Collaborative Divorce case with a high-net-worth family. They chose to divorce amicably, and both agreed to divorce via the Collaborative Process. Even though it was a Collaborative Divorce, the topic of celebrating the holidays was a sensitive topic. Their eyes became watery, their tone became low and there was silence for about 5 minutes. As they processed their feelings and I heard their wishes, I began to give them different options. These were the different options explored in order to provide their children with a pleasant holiday:
OPTION #1 Celebrate together for a few hours as the children may not be emotionally ready to celebrate separately. (ex: an hour or two opening up gifts, having a meal together or ice-cream together)
OPTION #2 Celebrate by dividing the hours equally and explain to the children that mom and dad talked about how they will celebrate this holiday separately. The children should know this was discussed and agreed to by both parents.
OPTION #3 Celebrate briefly together for an hour or so, and then celebrate separately equal timesharing. The children should also be explained that the parents discussed and agreed on these plans.
In this Collaborative Divorce described above, the parents chose option #3. They asked for my intervention to help them draft a December calendar which included dates, times, and location of their brief time together and then the details of the exchange. Ideally, this would be the best-case scenario for a family experiencing a separation. On the other hand, we have parents that can’t set their feelings aside, nor can they agree to agree on a timesharing. This is when Court intervention may be needed.
I always suggest referring to experienced professionals in our community when parents are stuck. Family Court Services has the finest in-house staff and professional referrals in our community to help families.
Keep in mind that every family is unique and has different needs. The ultimate goal when working with parents and families is to find ways to avoid a future problem, think ahead and do not wait until the holiday approaches, but rather if you are a parent, an attorney, a Parenting Coordinator, a Guardian ad Litem, a Collaborative Practitioner, ask what are the immediate concerns or topics that need to be addressed, rather than wait until it becomes a problem. Continue to always help our community and make a difference in the lives of families that are experiencing these difficult moments.
Wishing everyone a “HAPPY & HEALTHY” holiday season!