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The Great Child Centered Holiday

Is it any wonder that Holidays are referred to as the the most stressful time of the year? They can be the best childhood memories dependent upon the grown ups.
(3 minutes 52 seconds read time)

Lori Denman-Underhill
Lori Denman-Underhill uses the power of the press to raise awareness about endless causes.

Overeating, cheek pinching, office partying, tree trimming, menorah lighting, ugly sweater wearing, card sending, over spending, Oprah’s favorite things trending! Is it any wonder that holidays are referred to as the the most stressful time of the year?

Adults aren’t the only ones that feel the crush and pressure of Seasons Greetings. Think about the disruption of continuity that occurs during the, “most wonderful time of year.” The lack of sleep, the excesses of food and drink, late night parties or programs to attend, the festivities and steady stream of Amazon boxes… then it is easy to see how old and young can be off their “A Game.” Add in the last minute power struggles of coParenters including schedule changes, out of town visitors and displaced children who are shuttled between households and family traditions; the pressure is increased for the kids.

Some of my fondest memories as a child and through my teens was the ability to go to bed in one house, wake up in the same house and stay in my pajamas for as long as I wanted the next day long, after the wrapping was torn asunder and the breakfast devoured.

Regardless, I can say with some regret and introspection that I have signed hundreds of stipulations or pronounced orders as a judge, that robbed other children of that memory as we collectively cater the holidays to the wants and needs of all the grown ups in the room. That is what we lawyers, judges, and coPartners do. It is the system we are dealt, an adversarial system which espouses, “best interests of the child,” but lives in a space that is convenient or agreed upon by the adults.

And though it makes perfect sense on paper or pleadings for toddlers to be jockeyed house to house, or teens to be forced away from family, friends and pajama lounging to spend half the day, half the school break with one parent or the other; when seen through the lens of the kid it is one layer of stress and expectations layered upon another. Can anyone really expect a 10 year old to be as well mannered, well dressed or even engaged or polite at the second holiday dinner of the day? Sometimes “splitting” the holidays is tearing apart the children.

Hamilton Wright Mabie said,” Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in the conspiracy of love.” No matter which holidays you celebrate, no matter what your family traditions or memories, certainly we can conspire to love our children enough to turn the way we do those things from being adult convenient to child centric.

What would that look like? Seems to me that whenever possible we don’t  traipse children house to house, life to life, state to state. If there is mileage to be made, why aren’t the adults doing the holiday hustle? Why not conjoint celebrations where adults mind THEIR manners and just get along for the kids. Why not family dinners with tables of supportive loving parents and others passing gravy and not judgment? If we start to think about the view from a child’s perspective, then all of us that work in the business of deciding how a life of a child is  ordered may stand up and do what is right by making a few of the adults in the room a little inconvenienced and maybe even a little uncomfortable.

As coParents you have the unique opportunity to be a memory maker for your child. Think about it, reflect and each of us can easily relate to the beginnings of the storyline that goes like this, “When I was a kid we used to …” Whether an intact family or not, the memories like flurrying snowflakes flutter all around you and your child. Your behavior, pliability, level of cooperation or adversely your heel digging, principle standing or acrimony will be the building blocks. The very foundation for your child’s Holiday memories.

Fast forward twenty years from now and consider if your current parenting plan, your current relationship and communication with your coParent foster happy, positive notes of childhood memories or is the conflict a resounding cacophony that will have your adult child say one day, “I hated the holidays growing up.” You can finish that sad thought.

If we believe that the wonder and awe of the holidays are made relevant and even enchanting again as seen through the eyes of a child, then we better make sure what our children are seeing is magical not madness. Conspire to be child centric especially at this time of year. The holidays can be the fondest of childhood memories dependent upon the grown ups in their lives.