Making Holidays Magical for Kids After Divorce

by Vicki Shemin
December 2018

When we think holidays, we think magical time of year for children.

But, when it comes to children of divorce – – not so fast. For far too many of these children, holidays mean split loyalties, guilt, sadness and regret.

Why split loyalties? Even if children have no choice as to where they are going to be for a holiday, the mere fact of being with one parent versus the other means an inherent sense of longing for all that could have been.

Why guilt? Children are acutely attuned to the fact that holiday conversations can quickly devolve into holiday vexations and that they are the identified cause of yet another source of exasperation between their parents.

Why sadness? Psychologists know that the experience of what they call “cognitive dissonance” is an exquisitely uncomfortable and irreconcilable state where two sets of emotions or thoughts cannot contemporaneously co-exist. Children wonder how they can manage to have a joyous holiday with Dad while simultaneously longing to be with their Mom (who in this all too real scenario is ironically the one “home alone”).

Why regret? Many children of divorce naturally take on a tremendous burden, a syndrome known as  “parentification,” whereby they feel that it is their grown-up responsibility to somehow proactively change the dynamic between their parents while inevitably recognizing that they are really too helpless to do so.

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