For many kids of divorce, the holidays may not be such a merry time. One of the main reasons for these children’s holiday blues is due to what they have come to believe about themselves because of their experiences from the divorce process. Let me explain.
Children experience many different emotions due to their parent’s behavior’s around the divorce: sad, hurt, confused, disconnected, lonely, guilty, not heard. Some parents become very internally distracted due to their own grieving, and kids often interpret this as my parent isn’t there for me or I’m not important or loved. Some parents become angry during and after the divorce process and take it out on their children. These kids may internalize the message that they are bad or live with a lot of confusion, guilt, and shame.
Parents who are gone a lot with work or going out may cause kids to feel less important, excluded, and disconnected. If mom or dad start dating, they often become distracted with their new partner and kids again often interpret this as I’m not important or loved. Some parents become estranged from their children and see them seldom or never. Because a lot of important decisions are made without their input, i.e. decisions like getting separated or divorced, moving, or their parent dating, kids often feel out of control and like they have no voice. If mom and dad continue to argue and fight, kids feel pulled into the middle and like they have to choose between their parents. Many kids have shared with me that it’s a lose-lose situation for them because no matter what they do, someone is going to be upset with them.
As children try to make sense of their feelings and their experiences, their private logic leads them to make decisions about themselves. The above examples often lead to some negative beliefs such as I’m unloved or not important. Children may feel that they have no voice, their needs don’t matter, or other people’s needs are more important than theirs. Kids may think the divorce is their fault. Others decide that they aren’t good enough or that something is wrong with them because why else would their dad stop seeing them.
These decisions are never true, but it makes sense why kids might believe it. Parents need to help kids become aware of any negative beliefs they have internalized through conversations or through therapy. I’d look for places where you can give them choices and decision-making. I’d try to be fully present when you are with them. That means everyone turning off their devices and focusing on each other. I encourage divorced parents to not involve new dating partners with their children until there is a ring and a date. I’ve seen too many children become attached to these people and when they break up, it’s another devastating loss to work through.
Do your best to carve out special one-on-one time with each child so they know that they are important. Be a great listener when they are upset about their circumstances so they know that you care, you understand, and you will be there for them. Have family meetings where everyone can voice their needs and work out win-win solutions where everyone gets their needs met. Do your own counseling to work through your feelings and issues so that you don’t take your anger out on them.
Many parents say that they are putting their children’s needs first, but their behaviors don’t back it up. Do whatever counseling you need to do in order to end the fighting and to be able to co-parent peacefully and cooperatively. Make sure kids can see both parents a lot, especially during the holidays when the divorce seems more real. Be an available, nonjudgmental, empathetic listener as many kids experience some grieving during the holidays. They emotionally revisit the loss of the family that was and that they may still yearn for.
Parents who are present and engaged, get along with their X, and who are sensitive to their children’s feelings and needs will create an atmosphere of peace and love for the holiday season. That is probably the best way for kids to begin creating a new story about themselves, the divorce, and their new family.