As a Single Father, How do I keep Conflicts about Visitation Down at Holidays?

Q: As a single father with joint custody, I have limited time with my kids. My ex and I have conflicts all the time about visitation. With the holidays coming up, I want to get away from all the fighting and make them pleasant for the kids. What can I do?

A: If you and your ex find it difficult to speak in person about issues concerning your children, you may be able to have a better dialogue by e-mail. Writing down your comments gives each of you a chance to re-read them in the cool light of day before sending them. In this way you can keep the focus on the well-being of your shared children and away from throwing barbs at each other. Although you have divorced each other, you are both still father and mother to your kids. Act like it. If you can work together with a family therapist, having a disinterested third party physically there may help to diffuse the arguments.

The time you do spend with your children is now structured differently as well as limited. It will take awhile for the kids to feel comfortable with their new schedules so don’t try to rush them. Accept that the turmoil they feel is equal to yours. At first, try to keep some stability in their lives; do the same kinds of things with them that you did while you all lived together. Don’t try to make each visit with them special by doing something different, instead make each visit special by letting them know how much you love them. You can do that by focusing on them completely while you are together and letting them know that you think about them when you are apart.

Keep your expectations for the holidays realistic. They will be difficult for everyone, especially in the beginning. In the past, you may have repeated family rituals together each year; now things will be different. Unless you can come together to observe the holiday, you and your ex will probably want to schedule separate times for your individual holiday celebrations. You can continue the rituals which are important to you and add some new ones as you experiment with your children about how to make the holidays meaningful. Talk with them long before the holiday about how they want to celebrate it and make the planning a joint effort. Recognize that while a holiday lasts only a specified period of time, your relationship with your children goes on forever. A good holiday message to give your offspring is that you are grateful that they are in your life and that you will always be there for them, even though you are divorced from their mother. That is the best present you can give them.