Little things matter: supporting the value of family after divorce

“It’s not always the big things we do for our children that make the most difference.

Sometimes it’s the subtle things we do over time that reflect integrity in our children’s eyes.”

My husband is an amazing Dad. So when Father’s Day rolls around I usually get just as excited as my kids about making the day extra special. The thing I love most about Father’s Day – that indescribable mixture of self-pride and excitement my kids get when they give my husband that special something they either created or picked out.

The days before Father’s Day are usually just as rewarding.  Our home becomes filled with secret whispers, sneaking around and a multitude of not so subtle hints. All the grandeur of this occasion is typically followed by a tremendous amount of boasting about how their clever plotting and planning left Dad totally clueless (wink, wink).  For them, doing something special for Dad matters, a lot.

Whenever Father’s Day or Mother’s Day approaches, I can’t help but wonder how many children will lose the experience of making their Mom or Dad feel special simply because their parents don’t live under one roof anymore.

Professionals regularly remind us of the big boxes to tick, “Don’t fight in front of the kids,” “Don’t speak badly about your Ex” and “Always put your children first.”  Yet, what about those smaller boxes such as special days and family events? What do you do about those?

It’s not hard to understand how those special days can be quite painful for us as parents. For some they serve as agonizing reminders of old hurts or stir up heartbreaking feelings of loss.

While it’s easy to get caught up in the  “I don’t owe my ex anything” mentality, keep in mind you do owe your kids something, the opportunity to love and cherish both of their parents.  Certainly it’s not to say that those feelings aren’t justified or that you’re not completely entitled to feel them.  However, remember it isn’t about your ex, it’s about your children.

No matter how you slice it, whether it’s celebrating Mother’s Day, honoring Dad on Father’s Day or helping kids make a parent feel special on their birthday, separating your feelings about special days from the needs of your children is important.  When you commit to staying focused on your children you have the opportunity to:

  • Send a clear message that it’s okay to love both of parents
  • Support the importance of family in your children’s lives
  • Teach them the meaning of doing for others
  • Help them embrace change while maintaining values

If you’re grappling with how to keep special days special for your kids, here’s some tips to help you get started. How do you support your children when it comes to celebrating special occasions with their other parent?

Until next time,

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  1. Si on June 13, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    I have a supportive ex in respect of special days, and a loving partner who works through the “problems” to make these special days so memorable.
    The hardest day to “break” is Christmas, where my ex will not budge on her wanting the children. I would like for the children to be with us also, but with their ages (13/11/8/7) makes it difficult to discuss “what they want”, as ultimately Mum gets the final word.
    Any advise. I’m a good listener!

    • Christina McGhee on June 16, 2012 at 4:56 PM

      In truth, I think it would be difficult for the kids at any age to discuss what they want. Keep in mind saying “yes” to one parent means saying “no” to the other. If Mum is dead set on having the kids for Christmas chances are good they are well aware of that and may not want rock the boat. Even when kids get older they still don’t want to be caught in the middle of issues between their parents. 
      While it’s good to ask your kids to share their views it’s usually best when final decision about issues like scheduling are resolved by Mum and Dad.
      I’m not sure from your question if Mum is insisting that the day is always shared or if she is adamant that the children are always with her on Christmas day. Either way here’s a couple of suggestions…
      Have you considered meeting with Mum in person someplace neutral (i.e. local coffee shop or restaurant) to discuss the issue? I’d suggest you do so well before the holidays hit. Emotions tend to run deep during the holidays, talking in advance may help her to be more objective. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend keeping the discussion focused on the children’s perspective. Let her know how much you appreciate the parenting relationship you have but you’d like to find some middle ground on this issue so that the children have an opportunity to build special holiday memories with each of you.
      You may also want to reflect on what’s fuelling Mum’s insistence. Is there something particularly meaningful to her about Christmas, was it a big holiday in her family growing up or perhaps does she have a possible fear of being alone?  
      If Mum still isn’t willing to budge then consider thinking outside of the box. When it comes to negotiating special days or events it’s easy to misplace our focus.  What  kids will remember most isn’t the day on the calendar but rather the memories that we create with them.  
      Perhaps think about making another celebration your special time with the kids.  Allow Christmas to be moms special celebration and yours to be Boxing day or New Years.  Another option could be have an “un” holiday that you make special.  Instead of December 25th, make the 26th your Happy “un” Christmas day and spend it doing something you and the kids enjoy.  Most of all, remember your attitude will play a big part in how your children view the experience.  Don’t be afraid to be creative.