Joana is 12 years old and this year she's going to spend Christmas with her father. The decision was made through a drawn to see which parent would start off this new stage of her life. That is because her parents decided to divorce.
The Christmas season for Joana is family time. No other religious festival has such a special meaning as this one. The family together, the happy screams of the ecstatic children, the grandmother's food, Aunt Zéza's sweets...
This year will be different, Joana confesses that: -"it will be a Christmas without magic and without spark, everything was divided, the family, the love of my parents, the furniture in our house, the festivities... I want my family back!" - she says in a sad and tearful tone.
Christmas is synonymous with family. But what about when families are separated? For every father and mother, children are the most important thing. Christmas is for the kids and they're the ones you should think about.
For parents, this dynamic is complicated, because they want to spend their children's special days creating bonds and memories. Newly divorced families may still be looking for a new identity, balance, and organization. It's a grief process that clashes with the symbolism and magic of Christmas.
Parents may experience separation anxiety, sadness, and anguish at not being with their children at a time when they anticipated they would all be together. They may have to think of a new way to spend Christmas, at home with their parents, grandparents or friends and with new meanings.
Most parents try to balance the holidays as best they can. This balance for the little ones means an alternation between the father's and the mother's house. Between the best Christmas possible with the whole family together and the real Christmas with just half the family.
Children often feel guilty about having fun with the mother/father knowing that the father/mother is alone. Parents' tears confuse their children, because of questions such as which side to choose and where to go on the 24th or 25th? Who becomes most sad? How can they correspond to the parents if the parents are now at opposite poles?
As in all adaptations to new realities, communication plays a central role. Considering the symbolism of the date, memories and expectations, careful planning is essential. It is important to bear in mind some ideas:
The nuclear family got smaller, but the extended family still exists. Grandparents, uncles, and cousins are still present and with more space for new roles. It is in the extended family that reference elements for the child can be identified: grandparents, godparents, uncles.
Children should be listened to before Christmas, to expose their wishes and expectations, to calm fears or anxieties; and, after Christmas, to be able to express what they felt during the holidays.
Do not confront the child with emotionally difficult decisions. After listening to the child, the parents should make the toughest decisions. It is imperative to ensure that children never feel that they are the source of problems and conflicts, or that they are in the middle of a war between their parents.
Rituals and memories build and adapt. When the Christmas schedule with the children is known in advance, supper, the opening of presents and lunch can be anticipated. This allows you to strengthen your family identity and alleviate some fears. In addition, the father or mother may have their own rituals, which must be kept with the children.
Keep the connection. Allow the children to connect with the absent mother or father and share the evening with them: what they ate, the presents they got, what they are doing. This contact makes the absence less burdensome and lessens the feeling of choice for one parent or another. Parents should speak in a cheerful and reassuring manner, so as not to show resentment about the situation.
No one is to blame for a love that ends or bonds that are broken. Separations and divorces are not in themselves traumatic, but it is someone's fault if the children end up in the middle of an adult war.
Try to maintain a cordial and respectful relationship with your ex-partner, even if there are hurt feelings. No matter how many gifts are given to children, nothing replaces the presence of a parent.
In the end, the details regarding the custody of the children are settled, the dates of the festivities and vacations are adjusted and thus a new phase in the life of children/adolescents of separated parents begins.
Spark and Magic can continue to be a part of every child's life.