Divorce and Holidays: How to Help the Kids

As seen on Child Mind Institute:

At holiday time we’re inundated with media images of happy families experiencing the holidays together. But the truth is that about 50% of marriages end in divorce; and of the ones that are intact, at least some of them are unhappy. So if those holiday images were more accurate, they’d reflect families that are struggling. In deference to reality, then, here’s some advice for all the families in which the parents don’t get along. You don’t have to be divorced to benefit. You just have to be unhappy with your child’s other parent.

Concept I: Because parents are adults, they need to make sacrifices for their children. And because children are children, they shouldn’t have to make sacrifices for their parents. Think of sacrifices for the benefit of your children as holiday presents.

Present Suggestion No. 1: Be more compromising than you’ve ever been. Give up what you might want or need, and don’t tell the children you’re doing it. Make them think the world is just a good place. So, in the future, they have the confidence to persist at tasks in the face of life’s inevitable obstacles.

Concept II: What’s best for children is not placing them in a loyalty bind, so they don’t have to feel guilty about loving either of their parents. So instead of thinking about how wonderful it would be for you, and your extended family, to have the kids for the holidays, you have to think about what’s going to be best for the kids. And the data here are very clear. The thing that’s best for the kids is to not have the parents fighting with each other. So whatever you can do to avoid a fight is what you should do.

Present Suggestion No. 2: If, as parents, you’re fighting over the specifics of the visitation schedule, one of you might just have to say, “Okay, fine, you can have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year, and I’ll make it up next year, because I don’t want to put the kids in the middle of a dispute.” That’s holiday giving. (Plus, you can always consult with your lawyer in January, when things are less hectic.)

Present Suggestion No. 3: Another thing you can do for the kids is to collaborate with your former (or soon to be former) spouse about presents, so there isn’t a competition between you over who gives the best gifts. And please don’t undermine the other parent. If he or she says, “The kids aren’t allowed to have this,” don’t you dare buy it. Be an adult.

Present Suggestion No. 4: To really let your children know that the holidays are about them, each of you should encourage and help them to buy a present or make a card for their other parent. This sends the message that the divorce really was between the adults, and that each parent really, truly wants the children to have a healthy relationship with the other.

FAQ No. 1: Should I, for the sake of the kids, try to celebrate the holidays with my ex?

It works for some couples, but only those who have relatively comfortable, low-conflict divorces. High-tension situations should be avoided, however, which means that if there’s a lot of animosity, don’t pretend there isn’t. That will just confuse your kids—or even worse, if things don’t go well, expose them to conflict. If parents still hate each other, they should definitely celebrate separately.

FAQ No. 2: What about the extended family?

Your parents need to understand that the children are in a difficult situation, caught between two families. If the children want to be with one set of grandparents because they rarely get to see them, the other set shouldn’t take it personally. This isn’t a competition over which parent (or grandparent) the kids love the most—it’s about which parent (or grandparent) most loves the kids. Who is going to make the most sacrifices for the well-being of the children?

FAQ No. 3: Should I ask the kids who they want to spend the holidays with?

If the kids are teenagers that’s probably a good idea, but for kids younger than 12, I think it’s easier on them if you make the decisions.

How you divide up the holidays depends on the age of the kids. Before children are 4 or 5 years old, what they’re going to primarily respond to is the emotional tone of the situation, so what matters is what feels fair, to them and both parents. Kids from 5 to 10 or 12 are pretty literal, so they might be most comfortable spending equal amounts of time with each parent. By the time kids are teenagers, they’re able to think about what’s best in a much broader, more abstract way, and they’re more capable of making their own decisions (not all the time, but most of the time).

So you could think of it this way: For the youngest kids you want to do what feels right, for the next older group of kids you want to do what appears right, and for teenagers you want to do what is right.

On Air: WTOP Interviews Alan Plevy About Navigating Divorce During the Holidays

Divorce is difficult for children and their parents any time of the year, but the holidays can be particularly challenging. News radio WTOP turns to SmolenPlevy Co-founding Principal Alan Plevy for insights on how divorced or separated parents can reduce tension levels during the season.

Plevy says parents should keep the lines of communication open and try to work out details about times and days the children will spend with each parent.It’s important to put these agreements in writing, either by email or texts, so there are no misunderstandings. Another helpful tip: don’t get into a “can-you-top-this” gift battle. Plevy also suggests parents create new holiday traditions, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter, going ice skating or making reservations at one of their favorite restaurants. And finally, Plevy says pay special attention to how you, family members, and friends talk publicly about the other parent.

Plevy explains that “It’s really a holiday for the children, so we want to eliminate as much stress as possible for the children.”

Listen to Plevy on WTOP Radio below:


The Huffington Post: Tips to Survive the Holidays for Divorced Parents


As seen on The Huffington Post by Alan Plevy and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson.

Divorce is difficult for children and their parents at any time of the year, but it can be particularly challenging during the holidays. There are a number of issues that can arise, including:

  • coordinating when and where the children are supposed to be,
  • the gift giving tug-of-war, where the parents try to outdo each other by giving the most expensive present, or try to make life difficult for the other parent by giving particularly annoying gifts, and
  • the termination or modification of established family holiday traditions.

The uncertainty and stress of being in a separated family or a divorced family can cause disagreements to quickly escalate into arguments, making this an overwhelming and stressful period for both parents and children. However, there are some things that you can do as a parent to make things easier during the holiday season.

Put your children first: Holidays when the parents aren’t together can be difficult for children, especially right after the initial separation. There is often a mixture of negative emotions: sadness, anger and disappointment. Make sure you listen to your children’s concerns and let them know that it is okay to have this mixture of emotions. Don’t forget that the holidays are supposed to be a fun, festive time for your children, so consider how constant tension and repeated arguments will impact them and try to lessen their exposure.

Plan ahead: To avoid confusion, uncertainty and arguments, parents need to create a logistical plan ahead of time that specifies when and where the children will be. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until the last minute to decide where the children will be and for how long the children will be with which parent. Make sure you confirm plans in writing, whether via email or otherwise so that both parents have a record of your agreements. Having written plans helps avoid misunderstandings. Also, don’t forget to keep your children updated on where they will go and when. It helps alleviate anxiety for children when they know that together their parents have come up with a plan for them during the holidays.

Avoid a gifting competition: Unfortunately, parents, particularly newly separated parents, can get into a gift giving war. It is not uncommon for one parent to give gifts that they know the children want without consulting the other parent or knowing that the other parent explicitly disagrees with the gift. This includes electronics like iPhones and iPads that one parent thinks is not age appropriate for the child. In other circumstances, parents try to compensate for any stress and anxiety children may be feeling as a result of the recent separation of the family by showering them with presents, well in excess of what they would have otherwise given if the family were intact. The best gift for your children is to avoid these competitions, because they not only cause strain between the parents, but also cause anxiety to the children. While the child might be initially thrilled to receive a pet, if they can’t take that pet to the other parent’s house then the gift ultimately causes them to feel stress, anxiety and disappointment. Sometimes, the gifts cause children to feel like a pawn in their parents’ battle – this is especially true for electronics, where one parent uses the child and the electronic device to “spy” on the other parent’s home. If it is at all possible, coordinate with the other parent so that the gifts are given from the parents jointly – despite the parents living in different households – this will give the children a sense of comfort that is a gift beyond a typical present.

Create new traditions: The holidays are usually a time for family traditions, but for divorced or recently separated parents, it might be time to start new ones. Holiday traditions can make the season special for children and establishing traditions where they focus on the needs of those less fortunate than themselves can ease the disappointment and anxiety that accompanies the breakup of their family. Also, creating new traditions gives the children something to look forward to in the years to come, and eases the loss of other established traditions.

Give yourself a gift: It is common for a divorced or newly separated parent to feel sad, alone and stressed during the holidays. Occasionally, because of the established visitation schedule, a parent might find themselves having more free time than in previous years or not having their child with them on the day of the holiday. While the children are learning to adapt to the established structure, you should as well. Therefore, use this time to do something special or to create a new tradition for yourself. By taking action to alleviate stress, you will give yourself the time to recharge and be at your best during the time that you have your children for the holidays.


On Air: SmolenPlevy Shares Tips for Handling the Holidays while Divorced on NBC4, Let’s Talk Live and WNEW

SmolenPlevy Alan Plevy Kyung Dickerson Let's Talk Live NBC Washington WNEW

The holidays are a time for family, which often makes this time of year hard on children of divorced or separated parents. SmolenPlevy co-founding Principal Alan Plevy shared tips on how divorced parents can make the holiday season more enjoyable for everyone on NBC Washington. Principal Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson joined Plevy on NewsChannel 8’s Let’s Talk Live and was also featured on WNEW to offer divorced parents some practical holiday suggestions.

Most divorced couples find it difficult to fairly divvy up time with their children. Plevy and Dickerson both agree that parents should come up with a plan for when and where their children will be well ahead of time to avoid unnecessary confusion and stress. Plevy suggests divorced parents confirm their plan in writing via text message or e-mail to minimize family tension and avoid confusion.

Dickerson says another problem divorced parents face is holiday gift-giving. Separated couples often engage in gifting competition and end up leaving the holidays overwhelmed and in debt. Plevy says avoiding competition is key and that divorced parents should be mindful of their ex’s financial situation when picking out presents.

Another present problem arises when children haul their gifts from one home to another. “If they have to open a present at one parents house and then leave it, it’s not much of a holiday for them,” Dickerson points out. Parents also often struggle with unwanted gifts (like pets) and lack of storage space for excess toys. Dickerson says, “Don’t give the child or children any present that you do not want to have in your house.”

Blended families coming together for the first time with separate traditions can also add to holiday havoc. Plevy recommends parents tackle this issue by creating new holiday traditions. He says, “This is a new chapter, this is a new family. It’s the time to start anew with the children.” Doing so eases tension by having the children focus on fun instead of the fact that their family isn’t all together.

Above all else, children want their parents to be happy and peaceful during the holidays, which means adults should be mindful of never speaking badly about the other parent or that parent’s extended family. Both Plevy and Dickerson suggest divorced parents should keep it as simple as possible to curb confusion, frustration and hard feelings during the holidays.

Watch Plevy on NBC4:

Watch Plevy and Dickerson on Let’s Talk Live:

Divorce: A New Year’s Resolution

Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson Fox 5 DC Divorce as a New Year's Resolution

While no one can predict the future, it is safe to guess that the New Year will bring change: new opportunities, new friends, new diets, and possibly a divorce. Divorce is a common New Year’s resolution.

According to Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson, principal at SmolenPlevy, a number of people begin the process of divorce in January and February — mainly because people do not want the emotional turmoil of divorce proceedings in the middle of the holidays. “They’ve survived the holiday season,” said Dickerson in a FOX5 interview, “they’ve maintained the image of a family, they’ve maintained that one last good Christmas for their children, and now they’re ready to move forward.” Dickerson adds that there are also more practical reasons for getting a divorce early in the year, as January also means receiving end-of-the-year tax forms, making it “a great time to learn what you’re holding, what you owe and how you’re going to consider dividing those things up should a divorce happen.”

Dickerson also has some suggestions for people considering a divorce. When it comes to dividing up physical possessions, Dickerson recommended focusing on things with emotional value, rather than “[spending] thousands of dollars arguing over the lamp.” She also emphasized being clear with your attorney as to what you want your relationship with your spouse after the divorce to be like, as not everyone separating wants to take a “scorched earth approach”. Dickerson also recommends consulting with an attorney even if you don’t want a divorce but think your spouse may want one, so you can be better prepared for the process.

You can watch the full interview below. Make sure to follow SmolenPlevy on Twitter @SmolenPlevy and visit their website if you are looking for information on divorce or other legal services.

Alan Plevy and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson Featured in AP Article About Divorce and the Holidays

Alan Plevy and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson featured by the Associated Press

For the children of divorced or separated couples, the holiday season can be stressful and frustrating if their parents don’t cooperate with regard to gift giving.  In a recent article, “Holiday gifting can be vexing for kids of divorce,” on the Associated Press’s The Big Story website, SmolenPlevy principals Alan Plevy and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson suggest ways to make the holidays more joyful for kids who spend their time in more than one home.

Transferring favorite gifts or toys between both parents’ homes can be difficult and result in lost or broken pieces.  Also, it is not uncommon for parents to forbid their kids to take new treasures from one home to the other.  And divorced parents sometimes compete with each other by purchasing elaborate gifts that they really can’t afford.

Plevy advises parents to work together so that one doesn’t “outgift” the other.  “Children value peace over presents,” he advises.  “They don’t care about which parent gives them the biggest gifts.”

Dickerson adds that pleasing the kids without considering the ex can make a painful situation worse and for a long time after the holidays. “The children show up at the custodial parent’s house, where they’re living most of the time, with a puppy,” she said.  “If that parent had wanted a puppy,” she says, “they would have gotten one.”

Alan Plevy Discusses Reducing Holiday Stress for Children of Divorced Parents

Divorce and the holidays Alan Plevy

The holidays can be a very stressful time for children whose parents are divorced. Alan Plevy, SmolenPlevy Co-founding Principal is featured on WTOP and News Channel 8 offering practical suggestions that divorced parents can use to make things easier on their kids, who are often caught in the middle of their difficult relationship.

Plevy recommends that parents agree on a plan for where their children will be and when well ahead of time, in order to alleviate confusion and stress. “Confirm the plan in writing,” says Plevy. “A text or email will do. Something as simple as ‘Yes, I agree we’ll meet at Starbucks at 4 p.m. on December 24’ will go a long way in minimizing family tension.”

He also cautions parents to avoid getting into competitive situations over gifts. “Children,” he believes, “value peace over presents and they don’t care about which parent gives them the most or the biggest gifts.” Additionally, when parents separate and eventually divorce, often there is disparity between their finances, so parents should try to be equitable with what they give the children. Plevy believes that children, no matter what their family situation, just want to be with their parents and their parents’ families during the holidays. Above all, they want to be happy.

Creating new holiday traditions can be fun for children and help make the time they spend away from one of their parents special. They will look forward to knowing that each year they’ll have a dinner on Christmas Eve with Dad or go ice skating on Christmas Day with Mom, for example.

Lastly, good behavior can also go a long way in keeping the holidays peaceful and happy for the children of divorced parents. Adults need to be mindful of not speaking poorly about the absent parent. This goes for extended family – grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles– in addition to the parents themselves. “Everyone will benefit from the old adage that you should ‘treat people the way you want to be treated,’ “says Plevy. Keeping this simple rule in mind will make the holidays less tense for children and parents alike.

Watch Plevy’s interview on NewsChannel 8 below: