by Waylon M. Ward

It was one of those cards written to make you grin at the sarcasm and I did chuckle. The card, decorated appropriately with red berries and green holly, read: "Don't let them destroy the hypocrisy of Christmas... It's the only part I enjoy!" Even though such cartoons make us grin, they also remind us that the holidays can be tough for some people. Divorced dads particularly find the holidays often lonely and very sad. I remember a Thanksgiving meal at a local Holiday Inn during my divorce. The food wasn't too bad, but the loneliness tasted horrible. And there was a Christmas Eve night spent at another Holiday Inn just a few short blocks from where my kids were asleep in the house where I used to live with their mother. The holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas, are tough on divorced dads and their kids, and the first couple of years are often the roughest. This has to do with the "family nature" of these special days, the holiday traditions, and memories of past years as an intact family. Visitation usually means that parents alternate years and holidays, so it means every other Thanksgiving and every other Christmas is going to be spent away from your children. It's hard, but not impossible. Here are a few ideas to make the season a more enjoyable experience for you and your children:
  1. Include the children in the planning. Let them help make the choices about when to celebrate the holidays and with whom. If you can't be together on the special day, plan a time when you can celebrate with the children. Be careful not to put a guilt trip on them about their desires for the holidays.

  2. Avoid the guilt reaction. Many divorced dads, still reeling from their personal hurt and guilt, may be overwhelmed by these feelings and respond to the children's pain by overcompensating with money or gifts. They feel they need to make it up to the kids or at least help them forget their sadness with lots of gifts. The first Christmas after my divorce was obscene. The children received so many gifts from their mother and myself. I was embarrassed to have people look at my tree with so many gifts. I quickly learned that it didn't make the situation any easier to bear.

  3. Help your children shop for their mom and stepparent(s). Children want to give gifts to the people in their lives just like adults do. Younger children have limited funds and often feel very awkward about buying gifts for the first few Christmases after the divorce. Make it easier on them by offering to help.

  4. Allow the children to help with the Christmas cards. They can lick the stamps or seal the cards, and it's a good time to talk about all your friends and family members.

  5. Build new family traditions. Divorced dads often make the mistake of trying to duplicate exactly what the family traditions were before the divorce. Create your own traditions, and let the children share in the planning.

  6. Give gifts that can help you and the children stay in touch. A nice box of personalized stationery or their own personal cassette tape player with blank tapes make nice gifts.

  7. Read the Christmas story onto a cassette tape for the child to listen to on Christmas Eve if you can't he there with them. The Christmas story from The Living Bible and/or "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" make two wonderful tapes, and the younger children will particularly like hearing Dad's voice.

  8. Write your children a special Thanksgiving or Christmas letter to read on that special day. The Thanksgiving letter could be a list of all the things you are thankful for, including the children. The Christmas letter could be about the best gifts you ever received-putting your children at the top of the list. On those holidays when you are all alone, reach out to those children who do not have a father who cares about them. Your church or the Salvation Army can help you find these families. These holidays without the children can also be spent building your ties to your personal family of origin. Visit with your own Mom and Dad, and celebrate with them. It could be fun reliving your own childhood memories. The pain of divorce seems the greatest at these family holidays. But a divorced dad who anticipates these lonely days can turn them into celebrations of thankfulness and joy. Your children will thank you for the memories!

    Waylon Ward M.Ed. is the director for the Dallas Center for Fathering. He is a former football player for Texas A&M and a licensed marriage and family counselor. He and his wife Lynn have six children in their blended family.

    This article originally appeared in Today's Father magazine, vol. 2, no. 4. Today's Father is a quarterly publication of the National Center for Fathering (www.fathers.com).

    Children Youth and Family Consortium Electronic Clearinghouse. Permission is granted to create and distribute copies of this document for noncommercial purposes provided that the author and CYFCEC receive acknowledgment and this notice is included. Phone (612) 626-1212 EMAIL: cyfcec@maroon.tc.umn.edu