Many times children’s pastors and other church leaders will be asked about the idea of divorcing parents spending the holidays together. Perhaps you are one of those pastors and you aren’t quite sure how to advise the divorcing parents. You may be like a lot of people and encourage divorcing parents to come together for a holiday like Thanksgiving. You might think it is in the best interest of the children.
While encouraging families to merge over the holidays might seem to work for the adults, for the most part it is not a good idea where the children are concerned. Psychologist Carl Pickhardt in an article on Psychology Today says, “Thus parents who put in a joint presence at special family celebrations and holiday events to recreate family closeness for the child only feed the child’s fantasy and delay his adjustment.”
I have witnessed this myself in single parents and divorcing families. People who try to create that family closeness make it harder many times on the kids. I’ve heard the kids tout, “Mom and Dad will both be at Mimi’s for Thanksgiving” as the kids square their shoulders. Then the next week they come in dragging their feet and shoulders slumped as they report on their Thanksgiving. The dream of recreating family closeness didn’t happen. The kids were sorely disappointed that both parents didn’t stay in the home with them after the meal.
For older tweens and teens it is a different scenario. Some have shared that they don’t want their parents at the same Thanksgiving table because they worry the parents might start fighting. These kids feel uncomfortable with both parents in the same room.
What is the answer? Perhaps encouraging single parents to concentrate on what they can do to make Thanksgiving or Christmas Day special for themselves or in their single-parent home. Here are a couple of ideas.
Single dad celebrating Thanksgiving
One of the single dads in one single-parent group reported, “The kids will spend the night with me on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The next morning we are going to get up and they are going to me help fix a special breakfast. We will just lounge around after breakfast watching the parades on TV. Then mid-morning they will be going with their mother to celebrate with that side of the family. I’ll stay home and entertain myself.”
This single dad wants his kids to be with him, but he also wants the kids to be free to enjoy their time with their mother and her family. He says he will stay home and pray for his kids to have a happy and joyful day.
Single mom celebrating Christmas
One year my kids were going to be with their dad on Christmas Day. That year Christmas Eve and Christmas Day fell on his holiday schedule. I had no family close by, so another single-parent friend and I planned a get-together for Christmas Day. I spent Christmas Eve by myself. I read a book and prepared for Christmas Day.
Some of our friends had their children with them on Christmas, and some were like me and didn’t have their kids that day. Instead of feeling alone and being lonely on that holiday, I got the privilege of being with other like-minded people. We had a great time, and I got to cuddle up with one of my friend’s toddlers. My kids were teenagers.
Each person contributed to the meal in some way. I think the men who came purchased some desserts but we didn’t care if our food wasn’t homemade. No one was lonely and everyone had a great time. What I thought was going to be a couple hours for a meal turned into a full day and lasting throughout the evening.
Whether a single-parent family is alone or with others, the main thing is to encourage them to remember the things for which they are thankful. Some families will give each person time to say something they are thankful for. Doing this reminds the children that God is still there and still taking care of them. For some kids who have come to doubt God’s existence because He won’t make their parents stop the divorce of their parents, it can remind them that there still is a God and He cares for them.