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Thursday, November 4, 2010

After the Split

After the Split

First holidays after parting ways with partner are difficult but manageable, experts say.

Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press, TORONTO

The holidays are widely regarded as a time for family togetherness, to indulge and savour in shared traditions from social gatherings to gift exchanges that are indelibly tied to the festive season.

But for families fragmented by separation or divorce, thoughts of participating in celebrations can be tough to conjure up, particularly for those heading into the first holiday season after parting ways with their significant other.

"We're all accustomed to the big hype about this holiday season, whether it's Hanukkah or Christmas we celebrate,'' said Sharon Shenker, a divorced mother of two and a family and relationship coach with Montreal-based Divorce Support Plus.

"The radio doesn't stop with the cheery music talking about love and happiness and family and good cheer, and when somebody's getting over basically the devastation of their whole life and all their future plans and dreams, it's not an easy time.''

Calgary-based registered psychologist Brian Zelt said any time there is a major holiday or event, the rituals and emotions connected to those dates tend to draw out greater tensions for many people who are splitting up.

"When there's been a lot of tension and conflict that hasn't been resolved during the course of a separation or divorce, I think these are often times -- the dates and points on a calendar -- where some of this conflict renews itself more vigorously because certainly there's a lot of things attached.''

Regardless of how acrimonious the split is, Shenker said the key thing for parents to remember is children deserve to celebrate the holiday -- whether the parents really feel like it or not.

"That's the number one responsibility of being a parent: to know how to hide your own grief and anger and be there for your kids in the way that they need you to be. They're counting on you.''

But it's not easy, particularly when a couple who once lived under one roof and shared in family festivities must now navigate the tricky territory of marking the time separately with their children.

Zelt said it's important for parents to co-ordinate schedules in advance, engaging in discussion not only about dates in question but some of the activities that are going to be occurring to prevent overlap.

He also suggests if parents are purchasing presents separately they should share what they plan on buying to avoid duplication.

Zelt said he has heard stories of one-upmanship surrounding the holidays or gifts, and some parents choosing not to do particular activities or events because that's a reminder of the other parent. There are also instances where parents purchase extravagant or lavish gifts to compensate for their absence.

Zelt said it's important to not get into the game of trying to "outlove'' your children more than the other parent.

"They need to see balance, particularly from one consistent or stable parent figure in this and realize their love isn't something that can be purchased or bought, and I think early on it's a challenge because kids can't differentiate that,'' he said.

"I think when children are older and they begin to realize there's a flood of activity around certain dates . . . they begin to establish some of those connections in their head themselves that, 'Hey, wait a minute: why do I get something fantastic on one day and then not see them and not have contact for the other 360 days a year.' ''

Glenn Cheriton, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Council for Co-Parenting, who moderates a monthly support group for separated and divorced parents, said another issue that can arise surrounding gifts is when they're used as emotional gameplay.

"To my mind, I have less of a problem with parents competing as to see who can actually give the best gift to the child and more concerned about the emotional content of certainly denying a gift to a child or taking a gift that is supposed to be for a child and then trashing it or sending it back,'' he said.

"That I think is one of those things that is really quite destructive, and that's certainly something that hurts and that is designed to hurt.''

The holidays can be especially tough for the parent who is solo for the first time without their kids.

Shenker, whose children are now 28 and 30, divorced when they were just two and four years old. She said the hardest part of the holidays, or any time the kids were with their dad, was figuring out what to do with herself.

For her, readjusting to single life meant going to a restaurant with a book, taking off her watch and staying there for at least 40 minutes on her own.

Despite how tough it can be, spending time on your own with your kids can present a silver lining: Shenker said it offers the opportunity to create new traditions.
Maybe it's renting a bunch of movies and cosying up under the covers with popcorn, she said. Or perhaps one parent loved the idea of carolling, but their partner didn't. Now that's something they can share with their kids, she added.

"It's up to each parent to talk to their child and decide what feels right for them.''

http://news.therecord.com/Life/article/455598

Update on this article:
My daughters are now 30 and almost 32. How time flies!
To top it off, I not only have a son-in-law, but I am also a grandmother!
You can see some pictures of my family on my facebook page.
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?id=769419182

2 comments:

  1. Wow...what wonderful advice. Particularly like the practical things that you suggested. Your readers will certainly benefit from some of these ideas!

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  2. This really is great advice. My girlfriend's parents split a couple of years ago and her mom has told me that the next Christmas was the hardest part of the whole process. But she said that she got strength from her divorce support group and she knew, like you said, that her kids deserved to celebrate. So they did, and she has told me she's so glad she did so that the kids didn't have to suffer.

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