As the holiday season approaches, we, at the Centre for Mediation, know it can be an especially stressful time for families going through separation or a recent divorce….
Covid created yet another layer of stress; not being able to interact with family and friends, near or far. Now as the threat of Covid ratchets down, the health and safety guidelines are still murky and confusing.
…we offer a few suggestions for making the upcoming holiday season “stressed-reduced.”
Telling children of a separation is one of the most difficult tasks facing divorcing couples. The anxiety that precedes the conversation and the imagined responses of the children, consume the minds and hearts of their parents. They worry about the impending reaction – tears, hysteria – which they anticipate will come with the shock of the unexpected announcement of parental separation.
Yet often, children’s responses are not overly emotional, but instead are more mundane, and their questions more practical: Who will make my costume for Halloween? Am I still going to have a birthday party? Where will we be for Hanukkah?
It goes without saying that for children, an announcement of a separation of their parents, the key actors and organizers of their lives, throws into question how holiday traditions and other highlights of family life, will be managed. Thus it is important for parents to plan for how they will share or divide holidays and special events during separation and after divorce.
With some creativity, and openness to future adjustment…separated and divorced couples can preserve key ingredients of the holiday season by pre-planning the children’s shared visits ahead of time. With a flexible plan in place, all family members can maintain the spirit of the season and enjoy the holidays.
There is no one “right” answer, nor one division of events that is “better than” another. The important point is that parents need to work together to figure out a plan that will work for the family and to remain open and flexible enough to agree to changes if future developments render the plan uncomfortable or even unworkable.
Covid Holiday Suggestions:
Boston Children’s Hospital Psychologist Erica Lee suggests that one helpful strategy, during the lead up to the holiday season, is for parents to talk to children early about accommodations being planned for “Covid protection.”
Plan to talk to your kids well ahead of the holiday – (but not too far ahead, two weeks)
Encourage them to share their disappointment if traditional events will be significantly different or eliminated altogether.
Let them know you understand their disappointment & that you too are disappointed.
As a family – plan what/ how you will make accommodations; Will you ask guests to wear a mask?, Have rapid tests available? Require testing at/ before the event? Have distanced seating, or a “no contact” rule?
Make decisions early, about Family/Friend events, and share them with the people who will join your family, to avoid awkwardness on the day of the event
This one-day holiday is part of a four and a half -day school break, beginning Wednesday at Noon or thereabouts, and ending Sunday night (Massachusetts’ public schools through grade 12, but may be different in some private schools).
The most common practice is to alternate annually the day or the 4.5-day school break. Parents might also consider some of the following options:
Alternating years the “holiday” parent has Wednesday after school to Friday morning and the “non holiday” parent has Friday through Sunday.
Annually one parent, whose family has a major celebration, has Wednesday afternoon through Thursday every year and the “non holiday” parent has Friday though Sunday every year (or the division includes more time for the holiday parent, especially if travel is involved).
One parent has the children from Wednesday after school until, say 3:00pm on Thanksgiving, and the other parent has the children from 3:00 pm on Thanksgiving through Friday. The weekend follows the regular schedule. In this version, the pre-holiday parent often has a special activity planned. Seeing a football game or perhaps going to a homeless shelter to help prepare dinner belong in this category.
Parents have two holiday celebrations: one for dinner and one for dessert. In this version, each parent’s family/friends celebrate Thanksgiving at different times of the day or accommodate the parent with a change of celebration times. Others even have a Thursday celebration with one parent and a Friday celebration with the other parent.
Parents may decide to have a shared celebration for as long as it is comfortable for all family members—sometimes including new partners/ spouses in the event.
Another option, if Thanksgiving is more important to one parent than to the other, the holiday is traded for another holiday or special event.
Covid Holiday Accommodations
The CDC recommends Limiting the number of people at your gathering dependent upon how big the space is for the gathering;
The rule of thumb on indoor gatherings is to stay 6ft. apart, or 2 arm lengths away from each other.
Once you have decided to gather with others – indoors – there are still preparations that your family can make to reduce the risk of infection. Here too it is helpful to remind your children how they can protect themselves; at the same time you are creating ‘buy-in’ to the “revised” holiday gathering.
Have Rapid Tests available as people arrive.
Wash hands well & often.
Have hand sanitizer out at the event.
Ask people to wear masks.
Remind people not to touch their faces.
Seat people 6 ft. apart at the table, or perhaps have 2 tables.
Give Your Children a Voice:
Although parents must make the ultimate call – it is important – so says the Child Mind Institute, to engage children in the process of preparing – both by asking their opinion in the planning stage and, as the date of the event approaches, by creating ways to help in preparation for the event:
Make coverings for the mask box, or sanitizer bottle.
Design signs reminding people of safety rules: “Do not forget to wash your hands!”
Select from online companies “ half masks” with animal eyes /themes for people to wear over their face masks and make a game out of guessing who the person is.
Make name tags or place cards for the tables and ask the kids to participate in seating assignments.
To avoid awkwardness around the “rules of the day” give children a script around safety regulations: “My mom says I am not allowed to hug this year, but we can wave!”