Holiday plans with divorced parents can be confusing for children, so cooperative parenting after a divorce is necessary to make holidays pleasant for children, according to attorney and BYU Education Week speaker Margaret E. Pickard.
She said children who experience persistent conflict during holidays can develop long-term holiday-related stress, anxiety, social phobias and depression. If co-parents do not get along, she suggested using a parenting plan to minimize contact and communication which can result in conflict. “Dad gets Thanksgiving, but what does that mean? A good holiday plan is going to be high-structured and have minimal parental contact,” Pickard said. A parenting plan outlines the specifics of every holiday and vacation so as to prevent conflict down the road.
Pickard said it’s important that kids don’t feel a sense of guilt for having to switch households at the designated times. “Children gain emotional substance from their parents,” she said. “If mom is sad because they’re leaving on Christmas day, they’ll be sad.”
She said it was important children don’t feel the need to take care of the parents, because sometimes they will choose to stay in instead of socializing with friends if their parent is sad. Pickard said it is good for the children to see the parent enjoying a relationship at some time, whether it is with a sibling, parent or friend.
She also said to limit daily calling to the other co-parent as it requires a child to interrupt their current environment, enter a stressful one and experience a period of re-engagement after the phone call is complete. Although it benefits the parent receiving the call, Skype and phone calls should be scheduled minimally because daily phone calls increase children’s stress when the parents are in conflict.
Calling a co-parent names or saying mean things about them in front of the children will stress kids out, Pickard says. “Children who have parents at war are in a constant state of anxiety which is heightened during the holidays,” she said.
Avoiding contact and limiting communication between divorced parents who do not get along requires proper planning but ultimately benefits the children. “Your children desperately need you to be present at all times, and need you in their lives,” Pickard said. “Consider these things and adopt them in your heart for the benefit of your child.”