When divorce happens, how parents and kids celebrate a special occasion or a holiday changes. Adjusting to the change that comes from celebrating as an intact family to one altered by parental divorce is emotionally challenging, particularly in the immediate years following separation. Psychotherapist Julie Gowthorpe, Ph.D., M.S.W., author of the new book Tainted Love: Why Your Ex is Making Your Miserable and What You Can Do About It, joined us to talk about the importance of consistently placing your children's needs first. She shared some clear, purposeful strategies to guide you through this time:
Remember that Children Love Both Parents: Special occasions like birthdays are wonderful opportunities for former spouses to show their children how supportive they are of the other parent and his or her relationship with the child. Even a gesture like purchasing a card from the children or encouraging children to craft a card for their parent , demonstrates support of the parent-child relationship.
Parenting is Forever: Although your former partner is no longer your husband or wife, he or she will forever be your children's parent. Allow and encourage your children to enjoy their special moments with Mom or Dad. Special occasions like Dad's birthday or Mother's Day should be reserved for that parent, even if it falls on the opposite parent's scheduled time.
Encourage Ample Father-Child time: Avoid the desire to schedule other events that may interfere with the children's time with their father. For example, far too often Mom's say to Dad's, "Yes, you can take them from 11 to 1 but I need them back then because I have other plans". This narrowing of time only creates unnecessary stress for children and resentment within the parental relationship. Moms should consider Dad's special day a hands off time for scheduling other activities.
Children Worry Even if They Don't Tell You: Parents constantly need reminders of this point. If children feel that you are not going to have a good day because they are not with you, this will interfere with their ability to enjoy their day. Remind children that you WANT them to enjoy time with their father or their mother, not worry about you.
Make Father's Day and Mother's Day holidays that do not require problem solving: Father's Day should always be spent with Dad and Mother's Day with Mom unless there is an exceptional circumstance. For parents in the early stages of developing a parenting plan, have this written into the agreement.
Children have One World: Special occasions are an opportunity to remind children that they have a family that loves them unconditionally. Unconditional love means not only allowing, but promoting time between your child, their other parent, grandparents and extended family.
Parents need to be Healthy for Children: Take time for self-care. Be mindful about taking opportunities to move forward for yourself and your child.
For more information, visit Dr. Gowthorpe's website.