All posts by STEPcoach

I help parents and spouses find peaceful solutions to disputes. Since 1996 I've been helping angry couples find peace.

New Video Game Alert

Boy screaming at TV as he plays video game
Riding the Rage of Video Games

Whether you’re talking specifically about the newest phenom in video games, Fortnite, or any of the other 100s of addictive games your child has access to, as a parent and/or stepparent, it is part of your duty to make sure your kids can handle them.

The article referenced below about Fortnite refers to complications your kids can encounter if they play video games. My own grandson has had problems with these effects as he has grown up. In particular, we noticed that he would be quite a bit more aggressive after a session with the video. His temper would be shorter, his attitude more defensive, and his conversation was more rude than usual. We wound up with a pretty strict rule about limiting his playing time. (Every other day for no more than an hour at a time)

Read this article, then let me know if you’ve noticed any problems with video games in your tribe.

Movieguide: Three Things Parents Need to Know About Fortnite

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The Effects of Divorce on Children

The list below is a small but important part of the material I teach in my court-ordered divorcing parents’ class, Parenting Together©. These statistics describe what your children are facing or dealing with if you have already divorced. The rest of my class deals with how to lessen the damage caused by divorce.

1) “Children who grow up in single-parent homes are less likely to marry, more likely to divorce, and more likely to have children outside of wedlock.” Daniel T. Lichter et al., “Race and the Retreat from Marriage: A Shortage of Marriageable Men?” American Sociological Review 57 (December 1992)

2) A study on the effects of unmarried mothers’ child raising found that daughters were more likely to become sexually active in their teen years and were more likely to become involved with men that will abuse them. The Abolition of Marriage, by Maggie Gallagher p. 167, citing Stephanie Schamess, “The Search for Love: Unmarried Adolescent Mothers’ Views of and Relationships with, Men”

3) Women raised in female-headed families are 53% likelier to have teenage marriages, 111% likelier to have teenage births, 164% likelier to have premarital births, and 93% likelier to experience marital disruptions (a.k.a divorces of their own when they get married. “Intergenerational Consequences of Family Disruption,” American Journal of Sociology 4 (July, 1988)

4) A major study has documented that “teen boys from one-parent households are almost twice as likely to father a child out of wedlock as teen boys from two-parent families.” William Marsiglio, “Adolescent Fathers in the United States: Their Initial Living Arrangements, Marital Experience and Educational Outcomes,” Family Planning Perspective.

5) Young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families, according to a study which tracked 6,000 males aged 14— 22. Coalition of Marriage, Family and Couples Education.

6) Two-thirds of CoD (children of divorce) say they Felt like they grew up in two different families, not one, which creates “endless and often painful complications for a child.” Between Two Worlds; Elizabeth Marquadt

7) Fully 44% of CoD said “I was alone as a child” vs. only 14% of those in intact families, a three-fold difference. The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce; Marquadt

8) 20% of young adult CoD state “I love my parents, but don’t respect them.” What causes that loss of respect? Parent-to-parent relationships. Between Two Worlds; Marquadt

9) Most children blame themselves for their parents’ divorce according to numerous studies.

10) The effects of divorce on children is not short-term, as once believed; they are affected for the rest of their lives in almost every context. The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce; Judith Wallerstein

11) When CoD act out their anger felt toward their parents, the children suffer much more than the intended victims — their parents. Wallerstein

12) Fighting ex-spouses damage their children. Period. Only by learning to cooperate, through mediation or some other method, can the parents hope to rescue their children from disaster. Marquadt

** This information and much, much more is included in my guidebook for divorcing parents, (HERE)

LOOKING FOR HAPPY HOLIDAYS IN A DIVORCED FAMILY

As parents battle over semantics, children get torn to pieces in the fray.

Holidays are a big deal for pretty much every family. Halloween, Easter, Independence day, all tug at family members, making us think of past celebrations and wondering about this year’s plans. But, of course, the biggies are Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve; those are the ones that really feel like family events. In most every kind of family, these holidays mean reconnecting with loved ones.

Especially for kids, and especially after a divorce. In fact, often some of the earliest questions children wonder about when they learn of their parents’ plans to divorce (following the questions of Why? Where will I live? and Will you still love me?) are, “What about Christmas? Where will we open our presents? Will we still go to Grandma’s together? Who will fix Thanksgiving dinner?”

EMOTIONAL ISSUES

These can become crucial – and very emotional – issues for kids whose whole world seems to have fallen apart. When, they cry, will we get the normal back to our family?!

And, oddly enough, the older kids get more upset about holiday traditions, since they have experienced more family get-togethers than younger children have. Even the sullen teenager who last year just sat alone, texting friends and listening to his/her playlist instead of participating in games and storytelling, suddenly becomes adamant that they get to spend time with neglected grandparents, aunts & uncles, and weird cousins.

Why, in the midst of confusion trying to recover from divorce pressures and paperwork, are your kids choosing now to get fussy about seeing people they ignored before? It just seems like one more drama production for you to handle. Are they just trying to break you?

FAMILY!

Because, in the shock of seeing their family broken and wondering what foundations they have left, even those annoying family traditions previously about as important as a forgotten old box in the attic become dear old friends. One more dinner at Grandma’s house with Mom and Dad both together seems like the most precious dream for a child who is coming to realize they may never see their parents together again.

If this is the first holiday season after the divorce, this is an extremely important time. Your children will look on this as an indication of how the next several years will go. And they will look back at this season through the years as the way their new life started out. Give them a good memory and hope for the future years.

WHAT’S IMPORTANT?

So, what do your children need from you this year, during these coming holidays?

They need you to build a sense of calm, to keep the drama to a bare minimum.

Try to let your kids do as many of the activities they cherish as possible – visiting the grandparents, attending the Nutcracker, driving around together to see the lights on the houses, getting back together with cousins – even aunts and uncles.

And, throughout it all, as much as is possible, keep your side of the agreement to focus on peace with your child’s other parent. Even if you ex acts like a jerk, YOU can demonstrate how you wish you both should act, and lead your children toward a happy time.

What makes someone a “stepparent”?

This week I received the following question, and I thought you might like to know the answer, too…

The question was, “What makes someone a “stepparent”? Is it only through marriage, or can it be someone who “volunteered” for that position?”

My answer was:

A stepparent is someone in a committed relationship – legally married or not – with a parent. Stepparents – legally married or not – have no legal standing for their partner’s children. In other words, if you are a stepparent (as I have been for 24 years) you cannot, without your partner’s written permission, pick up your stepchild from school, sign for medical care for them, get their grades, or most other legal actions.

As a stepparent, you are legally just a stranger helping with someone else’s child. That’s the legal stance. It’s also a good starting point for the personal relationship with your Sweetheart’s children. I teach couples to focus on their “marriage” relationship. Let the biological parent take responsibility for their kids. That’s how the law looks at it and if the stepparent looks at it that way, too, all will be easier.

Yes, a stepparent should help out their partner whenever they can – with errands, shopping, housekeeping, etc. But only when asked, in relation to the children. If a stepparent goes into a relationship thinking they can “fix” the parent-child situation, they will find themselves receiving resentment from both the parent and the child, AND the child’s other parent, AND the child’s grandparents, on BOTH sides. Stepparents have the opportunity to be a blessing to their partner and his/her kids, but you have no rights to make decisions for these children of another couple.

My favorite motto is

“Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

When/if the kids start driving you crazy, react as you would with kids in the mall – either let their parent know they’re causing trouble, or step away from the children! And if you let their parent know how they’re acting out, do it gently with love.

Remember, your most important job in the relationship is to support and comfort your Darling. Most likely, you married for love, not to Fix their family. You are not their teacher or their trainer. If they ask your advice, give it softly and with care. These are not your children. Someday, if you play your cards right, you may hear your stepchildren refer to you as “Dad” or “Mom.”
And that, my friend, is a joy you can’t imagine!

Lessons in Failure

I WANNA DIVORCE SO I CAN BE HAPPY!!!!

In the Old Testament book of Malachi, God says that He hates divorce. Today’s society will say, “it’s none of your business, God, it’s my life and I’ll do with it what I wish; it doesn’t affect anyone except me.”

I just found out that a close friend-couple with a sweet little toddler is getting divorced. Why?

Because she ISN’T HAPPY!!!

Oh, good grief! Cry me a freakin’ river. Her child is already acting out because he’s so upset. Her and her husband (the victim in this little self-indulgent play) family will be torn up AGAIN. Her son will always be disturbed (a.k.a. Damaged) because of this. She will go on to a second marriage (a stepfamily) which will have a 70% chance of divorce, then probably on to a third with a 75% chance of ANOTHER divorce.

Just so she can be HAPPY! What utter foolishness.

What a stupid way to try to make yourself happy – at the expense of your child, your spouse (you know, the guy you swore – YOU SWORE – to be faithful to Til DEATH DO YOU PART [i.e. all the rest of your life]) your family, and YOURSELF and whatever guys you talk into marrying you next time and time again.

————————————–

Friends, Watch your acquaintances who choose to do this – to throw everything away so they can be HAPPY. Watch them over the years as they whine and bitch about how unfair life is as they fail over and over to find nirvana.

Watch them and learn.
Because they are our lessons of failure.

STEPcoach Bob

StepDad Asks: How do I make my Stepkids like me?

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Short answer – you can’t. That is, you cannot make them feel comfortable with your being in their mom’s life. That is up to them (and somewhat to how their mom leads them). The best thing you can do is be polite with them while being appropriately close to their mom. (“Appropriately” means close and passionate when alone; courtly and pleasant when the kids are around.)

You are not – and this is often the hard part for guys, it was for me – taking on any part of raising her children. That is her and their dad’s job. Not yours. Not at all.

You should treat them as you would the children of one of your church (or club) friends: friendly, casually, but politley. Do anything the mom asks you to for them – pick them up, drop them off, offer input If She Asks.

Consider their behavior as that of a neighbor’s kids’. Would you try to correct or instruct the kids who live three doors down from you? Probably not. If you see them acting up, you’d tell their parent – and then, probably only if it involved your stuff. It they were being unruly and you felt you HAD to say somthing, tell their parent (your girlfriend), but don’t try to correct them yourself.

NOTE: your relationship with them as a part of their lives will not begin in any tangible way until you and Mom are married. This makes a huge difference to children who have watched Mom and Dad divorce. Boyfriends are just “Mom’s passing fancy.” Stepdads (= the guy married to mom and therefore a permanent part of the family) are different in childrens’ minds. They are at once the opposition, the outsider, the invader, the unknown equation, the interesting oddity, and someone in between Mom and them. Winning them means EARNING their trust. THEY hold the keys to that lock. Eventually, a stepdad (or stepmom) will become less irksome, more acceptible, and even entertaining.

Nationally, it takes from 4 to 7 years for a stepfamily to gel and start functioning as a family – sometimes longer, rarely less time. Prepare to be the third wheel with the kids for that long and your expectations won’t make you crazy. Focus your time, energy, and mind on creating a strong relationship with your wife. When the kids have grown, moved away, and have families of their own, it will just be you two. Build your marriage relationship solidly.

(NOTE 2: If you are a Christian, pray and trust completely. If you are not a Christian … well, your best hope is to get in the Family ASAP. Stepfamilies have between a 66% and 75% divorce rate. That’s three out of four chance you’ll divorce again. With God’s guidance and help, those odds improve greatly.)

Blessings,

Stepcoach Bob Collins

You CAN NOT do it! … but …

Mom, worn out and about to cry.
Are you so worn out trying to do it on your own that you are failing?

I was thinking of you this morning as I headed out into the day. I turned on the radio this morning, praying, as I often do, that God would give me a word for the day. This is what I heard:

Are you a practical atheist

Not a theological atheist, who says I don’t believe God exists. But a practical atheist who makes plans, saves for emergencies, prepares for possibilities, and basically trusts in yourself to take care of self and family? 

A practical atheist is still an atheist. “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6)

If you are in a Christian marriage/partnership, you both prayed and agreed that this family would follow God’s will. That the primary reason for your uniting was, in addition to loving each other and your children, to give glory to God, and to witness to more people of God’s existence, His love, and His salvation.

But what are others witnessing in you? With so many stressed stepmoms and stepdads, everything I see about how you are dealing with this – your own kids and stepkids’ attitudes, spouse/partnership relationship, ex-spouses, bills, schedules, etc, etc, etc – blares out, “I am afraid that may fail! I must do more and better! He/they are going to beat me, so I have to try harder to make this work!” This is what your words, your actions, and your demeanor say to the world watching you.

My dear, dear brother or sister, Please listen to God. Sit down. Breathe. “Be still and know that He is God.” (Psalms 46:10)You have to be still in order to let Him show that He is God, otherwise, your action, fervor, and your good hard works take the limelight from Him.

This stepparenting business is much, MUCH easier than you are making it. Over two decades of being a stepparent and working with thousands of stepfamilies has proven this to me, time and time again.

You are not capable in yourself. But as God’s child, you are privileged to observe how your Father blesses you and your family as He does it.

“Be still and know that He is God.”

What should my stepchild call me?

… I get letters … well, actually I get emails, often in response to this blog or my Facebook pages or referrals to my websites. And they are almost always about disasters hitting the dazed home of a fledgling stepfamily.

Generally, they are about some sort of breakdown in communication – My ex-spouse is causing trouble, or my kids hate my new spouse, or my new spouse can’t stand my kids, or they’re all driving me crazy – things like that.

And I don’t mean to belittle these issues because I’ve been there myself, 24 years ago when I married a sweet lady who came with a 14-year-old attachment in the form of an angry at the whole world girl. After going through a suicide attempt, physical and verbal attacks, and a threat to kill her mother, we survived, won her over, and moved on to teach others. So I get it. These Disasters really are serious, life changing events.

One question that pops up pretty regularly is the question I got this week: “what should a stepchild call their stepparent“. That is all they asked, no explanation, no idea of who was calling whom what. So I tried to cover the whole topic. And since my answer was deep and wide, I thought I might as well share it with you, my dear readers. My answer was …

What a stepchild calls his (or her) biological parent’s partner (legally wed or not) is up to 1) the child, 2) the stepparent, and 3) the biological parent. This order of control is important because no one can make a child think of the stepparent as “Dad” or “Mom” – that is entirely subject to the child’s own mindset. As long as the child is respectful, the title they use is usually more of an issue for them/you than for the child. If she chooses to call her stepparent by their first name, that is probably fine – as long as it is done respectfully.

It is the responsibility of the biological parent to teach their child to respect their partner. It is not the responsibility, or right, of the stepparent to school their partner’s child on manners or etiquette any more than it would be for them to make rules for the stranger’s kid at the mall. If your stepkid is bad mouthing you, do the same as you would at the mall – take it to the parent to deal with. (“Not my circus; not my monkeys,” so to speak.)

However, most of the time this question is asked, it is because the stepchild has started calling a stepparent Dad or Mom. And the biological parent is upset about what it might mean.

I understand why many biological parents are uncomfortable about hearing a relative newcomer to the family referred to as Dad or Mom. After all, that guy or gal is not, never has been, and never will be your child’s blood parent. (Adopted children and parents change everything. That’s a-whole-nother topic.) And grandparents seem to get more upset than even biological parents when they hear the D word or the M world used for “that other person.”

But, to a child who has been through divorce, labels become a bit fluid. When my own teenage stepdaughter, after four years of resistance and blow ups, one day casually said, “OK, thanks Dad,” she was telling me and her mom that she had finally accepted that I was there to stay, and that she respected me for playing the supporting role of dad-stand-in for her when she needed it.

My stepdaughter was not suffering from head trauma or a psychological break so that she was suddenly unsure who her blood/biological parent is. If I had stood next to her biological dad and ask her to pick out which one is which, she will still know who is whom. She hadn’t forgotten her father.

She is bestowing an honorary title on this adult who has proven him/herself to the child. She is outwardly saying what she has been inwardly thinking for awhile. It doesn’t mean she loves them more than you, or that she is replacing you, or that they are her “favorite.” It just means she is giving them that privilege.

Look at it this way, isn’t it great that your child has one more person in her life with whom she feels close to? That she has one more adult looking out for her? And, if your child feels this close to his or her stepparent, maybe it’s time you got to know them better, too.

As they say, “Keep your friends close and that jerk who has moved in on your family closer.”

God bless y’all,

Let me know if I can help.

Stepcoach Bob Collins

What’s Ahead for Your Family in 2018

You made it through another year! Yeah!

Well, you’ve made it through another year. Congratulations. No, really. Lots of other stepfamilies didn’t make it. (Remember, ±70% divorce rate for us?) So celebrate your success. And when you get through hoopin’ it up, here are some ideas for the next year that may make your next pre-New Year times even more celebratory.

Maybe 2017 was the first in your new family or maybe it was one of a series, but I’ll just bet there were some memorable moments in the last 12 months. High times, low times, disasters (of various sizes) and perhaps even some victories.

1) Don’t overlook the victories

Celebrate your victories

Sometimes they will tend to get lost in dealing with the disasters, but those victories are the building blocks for the rest of you lives together. You need the victories for when the disasters are smothering you. You need to be able to look back at some happy times, some surprising laughs, some peaceful Family times together.

So make a scrap book. A real one or one online. Actually “print” some of those photos from your phone and make a collage. (Gasp! What a thought!) memorialize your Happy Times. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.

2) Give out awards

Which of your new tribe laughed the most? Who improved more over last year? Who overcame some major challenge? Who won an award at school (or work)? Which of you created some family-centered artwork?

These can be huge victories, or quiet accomplishments. Just be sure not to be sarcastic with your awards (unless that’s your whole new family’s thing!). And try to include either everyone or just one or two really notable victories. And make real awards. You can print out certificates of accomplishment, or make heavy duty cardboard medals and paint them gold. The point is, let your family members know you notice their efforts. Encourage them to try.

3) Make big plans together

Your family, too, can experience wild times at the beach

…you know, like a family. Take some time now to gather ideas about where everyone would like to go for a family vacation. It can be just a weekend outing nearby, or you can visit all the greatest cathedrals of Europe … maybe not. But you can discuss what you want to do, edited by what you can realistically do. Make a list, let proponents sell the idea, and discuss feasibility (i.e. teach the kids how to budget money and time). Then make another list of your top three favorites and choose.

4) Make little plans together

Let everyone (within reason, and with the bio-parent’s approval) put in their two-cents worth on Summer vacation weeks, birthday parties, maybe even special times for visitation. Be sure to include school events and sporting events.

The point of all this is to create and develop a sense of FAMILY so your kids and stepkids, and parents and stepparents can all take part in the growth of this new home. Give everyone a say in how this adventure goes.

All too often,

One big happy family

Children feel left out of the planning stages. They were blindsided by the divorce, and now a new adult has moved in, with their own traditions, ways, family members, and issues; and the kids can feel like they are just furniture or the family pets. They get told what will happen, when and where it will happen, and what they are expected to feel about all the changes.

By including them in the plans for next year – the big ones and little ones both – they can feel like they have some value in the new enterprise.

And you can have an even better victory celebration next year.

Holiday Survival Strategies

Holiday survival guide for divorced parents

[SOURCE: http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/21/living/holiday-survival-divorced-darents/index.html – from 2011]

<NOTE: The following is an article I ran across while researching my divorcing parents’ guidebook. The advice is sound, and the need is ripe. If your children have been through a divorce, especially if it’s been this year, you need to be prepared for the shock and pain they will experience in their first big holiday with a broken family. Please don’t underestimate the impact this will have on your kids. Thanksgiving and Christmas are hyped so strongly that the divorced child is left behind on the frantic rush to The Perfect Christmas Morning. And for “our” kids, that Perfect picture doesn’t exist. Start now to prepare to guide them through the parties, the gift giving, the visitation, and the separation of the next few weeks. STEPcoach Bob Collins]


The holidays can be rough on divorced parents and their children David Murphy hasn’t started shopping for his two boys yet, and he knows he had better get started. The div orced father of two boys, ages 11 and 14, has custody for a full week around Christmas Day this year and needs to get a tree and start buying presents.

Every other year, Murphy (who didn’t want his real name used to protect his children’s privacy) doesn’t have Christmas custody. So, he tries to do something completely different. Divorced for four years, he has traveled with his mother to visit England, where she was born. He has joined his father and stepmother on a trip to Carmel, California.

He hasn’t crashed his ex-wife’s Christmas Day plans, even though she lives only three miles away from his home in suburban Virginia.

“We try not to mess with the schedule when we don’t have to because it’s easier on both parties,” said Murphy. “As each party has moved on, it happened to work that way. We try not to interfere with each other.”

With the U.S. Census Bureau counting nearly 4 million divorced parents in this country, many parents are facing the challenges of negotiating holiday custody schedules, battles over presents, new significant others and simply the pain of being apart.

Whether you have the children for Christmas or not this year, going through a separation or divorce means giving up the dream of a perfect Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa. With the fantasy of the perfect nuclear family obviously over, it can be lonely even with the kids — but much worse without them. Facing the first holiday since the split, how do people ever survive this holiday season? And eventually even thrive?

Many like Murphy — who credits his ex-wife with keeping the focus on their sons’ well-being during the divorce — have found a new way of parenting beyond divorce. Here are some things that work:

Keep it focused on the kids

You may not expect to have a happy holiday but wouldn’t you like your kids to have a reasonably nice time? Even if you’re right, do you want them remembering you put them in the middle of your battles? And no child wants to feel pressure to choose you over the other parent, whom she loves as much as she loves you.

<No matter how you feel about your ex, or whether your feelings are justified or not, one fact remains: your children still love both of you. Kids love their parents. It is in their blood – literally! The sooner you accept this fact the better for you. Parents who try to alienate their children from the other bio-parent aways lose. Always.>

Parents learn about the payoff later, when their grown children make their own choices about where they spend their holidays. In her book “We’re Still Family,” about adult children of divorce, psychologist Constance Ahrons learned that some adult children refused to visit either parent if the bickering continued. “The children were happiest where parents at least communicated,” said Ahrons, also the author of “The Good Divorce.” “They didn’t want to get caught in the middle, and they wanted to be with both parents.”

Sort out details in advance

Nail down the specifics about who gets which days around the winter holidays, including pickup times and locations. Sometimes the details are in your custody agreement, sometimes not. Put it all on e-mail or in writing and stick to the deal — at least until it becomes routine. If you’re a more casual, less detail-oriented parent, know that you’ll score points with your more time-obsessed ex if you’re on time at drop-off and pick-up. If you’re the detail-oriented parent, plan for your always-late ex to be late as usual and you’ll be less stressed. Do not fight about time or anything else with the children present.

<The worst thing a divorced parent can do is to argue with (seen as Bullying to the kids) your child’s other parent. They don’t care at all who is right or wrong about whatever you’re fighting over. They love you both and need both their halves to function smoothly together.>

“Put aside the warfare that so often accompanies divorce,” said Steven Grissom, president of DivorceCare, a Christian-based divorce ministry with chapters around the world. “If that carries into a special time in the eyes of child, it makes the holiday experience excruciating.”

Don’t out-Santa each other

If you can speak civilly with your ex, talk about a general budget for presents, the number of presents and what Santa is getting your children. Santa knows which address to deliver the bike or the castle or the Wii, so don’t screw up his planning by having one at each house (unless you both want one at each house). Don’t outdo each other. Remember the spirit of the holidays and avoid trying to buy the children off with fabulous presents. And don’t buy that violent video game for the specific purpose of angering your ex. The same goes for grandparents and new significant others. If they’re interfering in your co-parenting plan, remind them they are not helping your child. At the same time, accept that parents may have different standards about what are acceptable gifts. If you are opposed to electronic games, you may need to accept they will exist at your ex’s house.

Keep some traditions, within reason

Children love routine and ritual, so keep a few family traditions if you can. If you baked dozens of different types of cookies for everyone in your life, reduce the number and type of cookies during your annual baking party but keep your daughter’s favorite snickerdoodles. If your family liked to take a trip into the woods in your ex’s truck to cut down a tree, you may have to explain that your smaller car can’t haul such a tree. “To the extent you can, talk with your children ahead of time and find out what is really important to them,” Grissom said. “If that won’t be possible, maybe you can create a new tradition.”

<Instead of crushing your children’s cherished traditions and memories, recruit them to come up with new traditions. Maybe including some of the old, but (as you’ll tell them) this is their big chance to build exactly the kind of new family and home they want to live in. Encourage them to make plans, then follow through with them.>

Don’t push too much togetherness

While some ex-spouses can sing carols around the Christmas tree or light the Hanukkah candles together with the kids and both sets of grandparents, that’s not the reality for everyone. Some do not want to spend time with people who left them or whom they chose to leave. Some people fight every time they see each other. Do not force more togetherness than either of you can handle, and don’t feel guilty about it. (That said, if you haven’t broken up yet, wait until January. Don’t be the Divorcing Grinch Who Stole Christmas.)

Don’t lobby for your sweetheart

Bringing a new significant other to the family festivities can really throw the holidays off-balance for the family, Ahrons said. “One parent will say, ‘Are you really going to bring her to this table?’ or ‘You can come without her.’ Avoid if it’s going to cause trouble, even if the new girlfriend is serious.” Remember, it’s about your kids, not you.

<And all this was not their idea. They are struggling to survive with the new set-up their parents created. Make it as good for them ask possible. At least for a few days per year.>

The exception to the rule

If your ex is currently a danger to himself or herself — and/or others — the safety of your children is more important than cooperating during the holidays. In fact, you’re probably trying to break the pattern of your ex ruining holiday celebrations. Elizabeth Jones, who didn’t want her real name used to protect her child, isn’t letting her ex spend the holidays with their daughter for the first time in years. He only recently contacted Jones a couple of weeks ago after disappearing for months. Whenever he sobers up, she first lets him have supervised phone calls for a few weeks, eventually visits with her and their daughter at a neutral location such as a park, followed by visits at her California home. “If my kid weren’t so thrilled every time she got to see him, I would be handling this differently,” said Jones, who has sole custody. “It’s a lot of emotional work for me to put aside my own feelings.”

He’s a jerk

If you’re a saint and your ex is a sinner and won’t take any of your thoughtful recommendations to heart, consider this notion: Safety aside, it’s better for your child for you to let your ex “win” sometimes, even if you’re right. Christmas can sometimes fall on December 27 or even January 6 (the Feast of the Three Kings). Hanukkah is eight nights of fun, so you don’t need to control all eight nights. That doesn’t mean you’re a doormat. It means you’re a good parent.

Your adult child will know you tried to make her life better by trying to compromise with your difficult ex (and yes, children know who was difficult).

<But, don’t point it out to your kids. That will make you look like you are bad-mouthing their other parent, whom they love just as much as you. Let them figure it out themselves. Your kids are very observant. They KNOW who is playing nice and who is not.>

“How you react to your ex-spouse is how you are teaching your child to handle conflict, stress and anger,” said Alan Kazdin, a Yale University psychology professor and director of Yale’s Parenting Center. “Giving up a Christmas here or there means you’ll have your child long-term. You want your child to have an ally in you later in life. It’s not only more rewarding; it’s more worthwhile long term.”