December 17, 2008

Prof. Emery's Tips for a Less Stressful Holiday

Marriages end, and do so nearly half the time. But when spouses are also parents together, the connection doesn't end when the divorce papers are filed. There will still be graduations, marriages and a whole array of life-changing moments to share. And beyond the big events, there are the ordinary rituals: Mother's Day, Father's Day, the first day of school, Thanksgiving—all times when good parental cooperation and planning can help kids thrive post-divorce. "You have to take the kid's perspective, not your own," advises Robert E. Emery, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Children, Families and the Law at the University of Virginia. Suppressing your natural emotional response can be a real challenge, acknowledges Emery. "In order to make it work, you have to end your relationship in a way that's emotionally unnatural. At the end of a romantic relationship, you'd normally say, 'I never want to see you again,' but when there are children, you have to contain that impulse. You have to put your emotions aside."

He offers these basic tips for divorced parents on how to make the holidays less stressful for everyone. (There's more on how to collaborate with an ex-spouse, and why it's so important, in Emery's book "The Truth about Children and Divorce" (Viking/Penguin, 2004).

1. Remember that the holidays are not all about you.
Your children deserve their celebrations even if you feel cheated out of yours. Encourage them to have a blast with their other parent, even if you can't stand the prospect of being alone.

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