Christmas + divorced parents + adult children = time for a chill pill
Q. My ex-wife and I have been divorced for about eight years and both of us have since remarried. We have an adult son and daughter who live in other cities now. Here’s the dilemma. Whenever they both come home for the holidays it’s very stressful for them. My ex-wife always pulls the guilt trip, expecting them to spend precisely half the time with her, yet she rarely makes plans in advance. She just waits until something doesn’t go her way then sulks. I dread Christmas for our children’s sake. I can’t do anything about my ex’s behaviour but I want to be sure I’m not adding to the stress. Any suggestions? -- Don, Toronto
A. It can be really tough for children of divorced parents this time of year. It’s more their dilemma than yours when it comes right down to it. And it can be doubly difficult for children who are married themselves – especially if both sets of parents are divorced. That can equate to four separate parents who need to be factored into festivities. Everyone wants to be included and feel special so hopefully your kids will be as fair as they can with their time. “But the parents also have to be considerate and remain flexible,” says Dr. Gwen Randall-Young, an award-winning psychologist from the Edmonton area.
“It’s hard enough for kids to try and work out the schedule. If one parent continues to make them feel guilty they’re simply not going to want to go there,” she says. “Never, ever, ever question your children about how much time they’re spending with the other parent. Once you’ve made them feel guilty they’re never going to feel really free again. They’re always going to be questioning themselves. Don’t lay that stuff on your kids. They have a much tougher schedule than you do.”
You recognize there’s not much you can do about your ex-wife’s behaviour, but you can do something about yours, which means chilling. Keep the holiday schedule as open-ended as you can and lower your expectations. Your ex may also be in a very different space than you. “There’s an evolutionary process that goes from ego-based – just thinking about ourselves – to what I call a more soul-based place where we have more understanding and compassion,” says Dr. Randall-Young. And everybody’s at a different place on that evolutionary path.
“You might have one parent who is very evolved and willing to compromise and another one who’s still very much at an ego-based place and crosses their arms, stamps their foot and pouts. It’s like trying to have a talk with someone who’s in Grade 12 and someone who’s in Grade 2.”
Factor in friends your son and daughter might also want to visit over the holidays and you may hardly see them. Just try to be satisfied with whatever time you get. And know that by being flexible and compassionate you’re also giving them the best gift of all.
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A professional journalist for more than 25 years, Diane Sewell has written for some of the top newspapers and magazines in Canada and is a baby boomer herself. Her new blog “Boomerangst, Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries” is interactive with readers and focuses on life issues – like aging, dating, second marriages, sex, death, family and fashion. Diane will use her expertise to find the right expert to help solve your predicament, unearthing kernels of truth and quickly getting to the heart of the issue.
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