This three-part series is written by Ashley-Nicole Russell, an author, speaker, and attorney, who is a child of divorce and a divorcee. She is an expert in divorce culture and shared parenting techniques. Through this series, she will explain what divorcing parents need to keep in mind during the holiday season as they work through separation, divorce, and/or life after divorce.
Part 3: Supporting Family Structures
The holiday season is often filled with family traditions. For your family, things are probably different than in years past. Your family structure has changed, however as we discussed in Part 1 and Part 2, your child’s holiday season doesn’t have to be impacted negatively because of separation or divorce. Just as your family structure changed, new family structures may be formed. Oftentimes, new people are introduced to children during the holiday season. This could be your co-parent’s new boyfriend or girlfriend, your new boyfriend or girlfriend, and/or the families of those new significant others. I don’t have to explain to you how difficult this might be for your children. It may also be difficult for you as an ex-spouse.
If you are a parent who is introducing your children to a special someone and/or that special someone’s family, I want you to be mindful of the entire situation. It may be beneficial to have a private conversation with your co-parent before you even tell your children that you are dating someone. To maintain a strong shared parenting relationship, you need to show your co-parent respect in this process. Understand that it may not be the news they want to hear. Speaking of, just because you’re excited about your new relationship, it doesn’t mean your children are just as excited. Your children are still learning how to form their own relationships and they don’t have an adult perspective of what your new relationship means. As you enter back into the dating world, be aware of how your children will model this behavior in the future. Don’t be the type of parent who jumps from relationship to relationship. If your children observe that, it will make an impact on how they date, maintain relationships, and process feelings in the future. I know that sounds raw, but it’s an important topic that should be considered.
If you are a parent who does not have a significant other and/or has concerns about your co-parent’s significant other, I want you to also be mindful of the entire situation. Don’t stress yourself out about this and don’t brace yourself for conflict. Instead of building yourself up to have a horrible holiday, think through all the things that you’re going to do to make sure the holiday runs smoothly for you and your children. You can only be in charge of your decisions, your feelings and how you react. Let your co-parent handle the introduction of a new significant other and/or that person’s family. Keep in mind that while your children may be exposed to your co-parent’s new relationship, you are not part of it. I’m sure your children will tell you things about their mom or dad’s new significant other. If, or when, they do, don’t let your opinions or judgements shape how your children feel about this person.
As your holiday is spent with extended family, consider having a conversation with your parents, siblings, cousins, etc. about your current family dynamic and situation. Encourage your family members to avoid talking poorly or negatively about your co-parent in front of your children. Make the focus of your holiday clear to others. If you don’t want to talk about your divorce, don’t. If you don’t want to talk about your co-parent, don’t. If you don’t want to talk about your new significant other, don’t. Set yourself up for success and own your own holiday. If you’re able to maintain happiness during the season, those around you will be happy.
At the end of the day, the measure is this: Be the parent that you want your children to grow up to be. It’s just that simple. Happy Holidays, everyone. I believe in you.
Ashley-Nicole Russell, Esq