With the holidays upon us, most of us are getting ready for gatherings with family and friends and figuring out who is hosting which holiday. Many families have traditions that may go back generations. As parents, we may choose to keep those traditions or create new ones. One of my family traditions was my grandmother’s cranberry marshmallow salad. I have her recipe, helped her make it when I was a little girl, but I just can’t recreate it on my own. No matter how much sugar I add, it’s too tart; sadly, I might just need to let this tradition go. (Unlike the shredded carrot and jello salad many of us grew up with, this cranberry salad really was fabulous!) I discovered and revised a cranberry sauce that my kids actually eat, so that has become part of our Thanksgiving tradition. While she is no longer with us and I miss her terribly, I suspect my grandmother would be just fine with my new creation. Whether your traditions are about food, going to Grandma’s every Thanksgiving or stopping by for dessert at Uncle Jim’s Christmas Day, traditions are part of who we are. For families experiencing separation and divorce, it’s important to try to maintain those traditions. A new normal, along with new traditions, will eventually emerge, but if your kids love going to your in-laws because Uncle John makes the best peach pie ever and Santa makes a special appearance for the little ones – thanks to Uncle Al – please maintain those traditions for your kids. While you might not want to spend the holidays with your (former) spouse and his or her family, based on what clients have told me, consider the following: 1) share the holidays, rather than trying to keep them all to yourself, so your kids can enjoy those special traditions (who doesn’t love spending time with all the aunts, uncles, and cousins? On both sides of the family?) and 2) consider spending the holidays with your former spouse at some point in the future. Sounds crazy, right? No…your kids would love it! While it is probably the furthest thing from your mind right now and might not happen for some time, parents who are able to step up for the benefit of their kids are glad they were able to come together as co-parents and enjoy their children together. And if you have had a good relationship with your in-laws in the past, chances are, you will have a pleasant time, too. ‘Tis the season for giving…and you will definitely be giving your kids a wonderful gift.
Navigating the holidays post-divorce is a difficult enough task for adults, but it also brings out stress and anxiety in children, whether small or big (adult). We tackled holiday survival post-divorce topics like “finding your new normal” and “creating emotional balance” here and here, now we will discuss guiding your children through the holidays. This is especially important if it is your first round of holidays since your separation or divorce. One of the most important aspects to remember is to be transparent about how the holidays will go. Set up a detailed schedule in your parenting plan early on with your ex. Having a plan in place and communicating those plans with your child(ren) will help ease some of their stress, even if it’s as simple as knowing that yes, both mom and dad will be at their holiday concert at school, or that mom will take the kids to see Santa. Whether your child is 2 or 20 it is important to maintain a holiday schedule and stick to it. Unfortunately it does require both parents to be willing to negotiate, and ultimately give up time, but developing a fair plan with your child’s best interest in mind will be better in the long run. Talk to your children about your traditions. Discuss with them what will remain the same, what traditions they will continue to celebrate and at who’s home, etc. Don’t be afraid to create new traditions. Many families will try to keep things as normal as possible, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a good time to start something new. Again, this holds true of children at any age, and talking about it early in the season will help them to know what to expect throughout the holiday season. Communication is key, even if it’s something that as an adult you wouldn’t think twice about, often times children do not have any idea what to expect for their first holidays post-divorce. For example, a young child has no concept of Santa knowing that they moved, or if Santa still comes if they are at dad’s house on Christmas and not at mom’s. Talk them through these scenarios. Establish realistic holiday expectations with your ex early on. How will you navigate gift giving with finances split? Especially on those big ticket items. Do gifts and toys get to travel from one house to the other? Etc. How will you avoid what becomes a “bidding war” of presents to “buy/show” your love? – This unfortunately happens often, and ultimately the child is negatively affected when years of this behavior occurs. The holidays are overwhelming for all of us – young and old, so don’t be afraid to ditch the lines at the mall, or the umpteenth extended family gathering, and trade for a quiet night at home with just you and the kids.
About 3 and a-half years ago, a family in the Collaborative Divorce process was working with the Neutral Child Specialist . It was stated by my client that dad’s alcohol use was the primary basis for her seeking the divorce. She couldn’t take it anymore. She had been involved in Al-Anon and working on no longer being codependent and practicing stronger boundaries. Dad denied that he had any problems. Mom wanted their teenage daughter to have a relationship with her dad, but wanted it to be a healthy relationship that didn’t put her at risk. What came out in the work with the daughter was that she experienced her dad drinking and driving and she only wanted to spend time with dad when she felt safe. During the process of creating the parenting plan, the Neutral Child Specialist arranged for a meeting the parents both agreed to attend in which it could be determined, and possibly ruled out, whether dad did have any problems with substance abuse. This happened because of how the team of lawyers and professionals worked together thinking about the greater good of the family system. But at the meeting dad wasn’t ready to hear it, and again said he had things under control. So, a parenting plan was created that gave daughter the opportunity to have time with her dad in smaller chunks of time, but have a mechanism in place to end the time if she ever felt at risk. Mom could also say no to time if she had a basis to say that dad was under the influence. They created details that both parents, and their child, felt comfortable with because they could focus on what was needed for the child to feel safe as well as the importance of the parent-child relationships. After the divorce, about a year later, I received a note from her client. She said that dad was finally pursuing treatment with the two professionals the Neutral Child Specialist had arranged the meeting with during the work on the parenting plan. She said that dad finally hit bottom and was ready to begin his recovery. When I look back on this case, I believe that a seed was planted and a relationship was started with people that dad could finally hold his hand out to for help when he was ready. And, because you can not force someone to make change before they are ready, a parenting plan was created that was responsive to the needs of the child. The dad was not dragged through the mud and vilified, and denied access to his child. Rather, a child responsive plan was put in place and now this family is on a better path. The mom said in a note to me, “I really appreciate the entire collaborative team. The support through this most difficult time was immeasurably helpful. I found [your] and the team’s understanding, when dealing with a substance abuse spouse, extremely insightful. [The Neutral Child Specialist] was direct, yet kind in dealing with both [dad] and myself. The entire team had our daughter’s interests at the forefront. [Dad’s] attorney also was helpful in this aspect, aware of the pitfalls in dealing with an alcoholic….thank you…in helping me through this, supporting my goals and providing a positive environment.”
In parts 1 and 2, we defined vortex as: 1) a whirling mass of water or air that sucks everything near it towards its center; 2) a place or situation regarded as drawing into its center all that it surrounds, and hence, being inescapable or destructible. As discussed in previous months, the “divortex” can be avoided by choosing the Collaborative Process. Prior articles describe what Collaboration is – it is a process that avoids court and may use a team of experts to help clients create the best settlement option possible. The professionals on a team are, generally speaking, the two attorneys, a neutral financial professional, a neutral child specialist, and a neutral divorce coach. Although the inclusion of financial and mental health professionals in the divorce process is nothing new, the manner in which they are used in the Collaborative process is unique. The attorneys’ roles are different in Collaboration, as well. While each spouse retains his or her own attorney, the attorneys work together to help the clients achieve an outcome that works for the entire family. The attorneys give legal advice to their individual clients, but more importantly, they help their clients realize what their interests and goals are. The objective of Collaboration is to get to a place where everyone is OK (a win-win) rather than a win-lose. The attorneys are trained in the Collaborative model and interest-based negotiation. A financial neutral helps the divorcing couple with property division and cash flow. Financial neutrals are financial experts and are CPAs, CDFAs, and CFSs who are trained in the Collaborative process and who understand the legal process. A child specialist is a neutral who helps the couple with creating a comprehensive and viable parenting plan. The child specialist is a therapist who is also trained in the Collaborative process. The child specialist is the voice of the children and not only helps the children during the divorce process, but helps parents help their children during this transition. A divorce coach is also a therapist and a neutral in this process. The coach’s role is to the help the couple communicate better. It is important for each spouse to have a voice in this process and the coach can help with that. In high conflict cases, a coach helps the process move along more smoothly. Although it seems like there are a lot of professionals involved in Collaboration, every professional has a specific role. In a non-collaborative case, the attorneys are acting as financial advisor, child specialist, and coach. And while attorneys can help with those pieces of the case, attorneys are not experts in those areas. In the Collaborative process, you get the best advice from the various professionals who are trained to help you reach a settlement. Consequently, a Collaborative team CAN help you avoid the divortex!