Marjorie JamesI have spent the last two weeks exploring the post-divorce world during holidays. Children love holidays, not just for the gifts but also for the decoration, music, baking, and family time. All those traditions are turned topsy-turvy by divorce. Careful planning and creativity are necessary to keep holidays and special celebrations like birthdays special for the children.

I am taking information and ideas from Kristin Little, a Collaborative family counselor, on what can make these times truly special after divorce. She is experienced in this area and has worked with many clients to bring resolution and joy to families.

I asked her about the “knight in shining armor” gift-giving syndrome, when one parent is able and more than willing to shower expensive gifts while the other is barely able to meet monthly obligations. She said that a “level playing field” is an honorable goal, but the reality is that things will never be completely equal. She had some ideas for parents to keep in mind.

One would be to have the parents cooperate in gift giving, labeling the presents “from Dad and Mom”, thereby eliminating the possible perception of competition we are talking about. Communication between parents on what gifts are being planned is also important. Ultimately, however, the same dynamic that made the marriage difficult may also come into play here. “Parents can accept that what they give their kids is not also equal, and each parent can bring something unique to the child. Children can learn the importance of sharing and giving, and parents can share in children’s excitement and joy when they receive something special.”

We also need to remember that experiences can actually be more important than gifts that can break, quickly become “so last year”, or get stored in the bottom of the toy box. Cherished experiences, it seems to me, may be the most important gifts children will ever receive.

My mom had a friend whose granddaughter’s other grandmother was very wealthy and able to give elaborate presents. Mom’s friend could not, so she became the “reading grandma”, and she and the granddaughter began a tradition of going to the library, checking out books, and reading them at home while sipping cocoa or lemonade. As the granddaughter got older, Grandma started reading chapter books to her; eventually, the granddaughter started reading chapter books on her own, sometimes reading them out loud to her grandma. A lifelong love of reading was born.

Another of my questions was what to do when one parent moves away. This brings a whole new dynamic to holidays, necessitating bringing some creativity and flexibility to the situation. Kristin suggested that the separation caused by distance can work. “If parents live far apart, parents’ schedules will most likely be less integrated and more separate, and that is OK.” She suggested that parents may need to be the ones to do the traveling for visits with younger children, or one parent may need to travel with the child to the other’s location. “However, remember that to have such integration requires parents to have a relationship free from conflict, or at least managed well when in the presence of children, so be realistic.”

Copyright 2013. Marjorie E. James. All rights reserved.