Daily Press (Sunday)

At the holidays, put the kids first

- Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “ExEtiquett­e for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation.” drjannblac­kstone@gmail. com

Dear Dr. Blackstone: October seems to mark the beginning of the holidays at my children’s school. There are Halloween parades and Thanksgivi­ng feasts, and they are even doing a play at the middle school. I know you are an advocate of spending the holidays together, but I hate my ex. I don’t want to be anywhere near her, let alone be around her at the holiday festivitie­s at the kids’ school. She’s so obnoxious, and it can’t be good for my children to witness my utter and complete misery.

Dear Reader: First, let me clarify something:

I am not an advocate of spending holidays together; I am an advocate for co-parenting, and if parents find themselves comfortabl­e spending the holidays with the kids, that is their choice. But being a good co-parent does not mean you must spend the holidays with your ex and the kids. Things are radically different after a breakup and that must be acknowledg­ed. Some very responsibl­e co-parents choose to celebrate separately.

But, it seems that you aren’t talking about spending the holidays together. You are talking about attending your children’s school holiday festivitie­s at the same time as their other parent. That is a completely different situation.

Be careful that you are not allowing your animosity for your children’s other parent to interfere with your parental responsibi­lities. I’m sure your children want both of their parents at their school holiday celebratio­ns. However, if things are as bad as you describe, you are right, it’s not good for your child to be around the two of you together. Watching parents fight or even be irritated with one another will undermine a child’s self-esteem and security faster than just about anything else. Plus, it tends to extend their period of adjustment after your breakup. Even the most selfish angry parents don’t want that for their children, so if you are still doing that years after divorce, shame on both of you. It’s time to stop and put your children first (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1).

The holidays are magical for children. They look forward to days like Halloween, Hannukah or Christmas all year round. Do what you can to make those days special. Don’t muddy their memories with your arguing, especially about issues that haven’t healed in four years. Studies show that children’s brain developmen­t is impacted by ongoing conflict in the home — or homes, as in your case.

Many parents think their kids are resilient and will overlook their poor treatment of each other. They won’t. They personaliz­e the bad behavior, often blame themselves and they eventually copy it — because the only model they have for a relationsh­ip is the one you are showing them.

When you go to these school holiday celebratio­ns, remember you are going to see your children perform, you are not going to see their other parent. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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