Family Vacation Tip: Take a time cushion and avoid time outs!

If you think it will take seven days for a vacation, plan for eight or nine. If you think it will take four hours to drive to your vacation spot, prepare for five or six. Taking a time cushion will allow you to rest and not be upset because you are late or lost. If you are a single parent, you have the job of two parents to do when on vacation. Be kind to yourself and over prepare. That extra sweater just may come in handy if someone gets theirs wet and need a new one. Those extra snacks may keep the wild things calm when you are trying to find the right turn off on the highway in the middle of the night after being hours on the road. Time cushions allow you to handle the stressors that occur when taking a nontraditional family vacation.

7 Ways to have more Grateful Kids this Christmas

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When children practice the great joy of giving to people —
they get the great joy of becoming grateful people!

1. A “Gifts We Already Have” List

Hang a long paper on a wall or on the fridge or back of door to write down all the things you are grateful for. Fill that list up before Christmas — a list of all the countless ways God blesses you all as a family. The gateways into the holidays [holy-days]?
is always Thanksgiving…  “Enter into His presence through the gate of THANKSGIVING — & in His presence is fullness of JOY” (Ps.100:4, Ps16:11) So when the holidays get hard, for big kids or little kids?  Deep breath & remember how you always get into the holidays & JOY — through that gateway: Thanksgiving.  Hold on through the holidays:
JOY IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE — because there is always, always something to be THANKFUL for!

The holidays with kids and an ex

Holidays are by their nature, challenging for divorced and separated parents. The family-focused activities present dilemmas: Which parent will host which activity; which parent will chaperone which event; which parent will have Santa visit? This month can end up feeling anything but festive.

“You couldn’t agree on things when you were married. Now you’ve got to agree to them when you are divorced,” said Edward Farber, a clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor at George Washington University School of Medicine.

Farber has been practicing for more than 30 years and his new book, “Raising the Kid You Love with the Ex You Hate,” (Greenleaf) is poised to be published next month. He said the key for ex-couples navigating the treacherous holidays is to keep focus not on each other, but on the child.

“Divorced parents sometimes think that having their child with them over the holidays is winning. The holidays are for the child, not for scoring points on your ex. Be flexible and responsive to the needs of your child.

“The holiday schedule your child needed when you separated may not be the same holiday schedule that works for her five years later when she is 13.”

In an interview this week, Farber went on to explain in more depth how divorced or separated parents might follow that advice. He also discussed what we have learned culturally about kids and divorce in the years he’s been in practice.

Excerpts of our interview are below:

BETHESDA, Md. – 2011: Marsha Lopez, who is Jewish, is divorced from her Catholic husband but the two agreed to make the holidays an interfaith experience with Jewish ornaments on the Christmas tree, for example, so their two children would be comfortable with both religions
(Dayna Smith – For the Washington Post)

JD: What are some of the biggest traps divorced and separated parents can fall into during the holidays and how can they be avoided?

EF: Frankly, it’s just hard for your child not to see both of his parents to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza. Spending Christmas with dad because your agreement says that’s what supposed to happen in even numbered years may work for the parents, but it can ignore the needs of your child.

Not seeing a parent at all over the holidays because of an agreement just leaves the child feeling empty and hollow. A pre-scheduled call to mom on the holidays and getting her boatload of presents is great, but spending the holiday away from mom entirely because it’s dad’s year to have the child simply underscores the split in the family.

If both parents are in town, let your child spend some holiday time with each parent. Develop new traditions. Christmas gifts can be opened in the morning in one house and late Christmas day in the other. Hanukkah candles can be lit right after school in one house and before bedtime in the other. Be flexible when it comes to family gatherings. Often when dealing with your ex around the holidays, what goes around one year comes around the next.

JD: What about faith — if the parents are of different faiths, how can conflict be avoided?

EF: Co-parenting means you are not always going to get what you want. But you need to remember this isn’t about you, it’s about your child. You no longer control the values and religious upbringing of your child all of the time. You share this control with your ex, someone you once loved, but now do not.

Create for your child as stable, harmonious and conflict free world as you can. If you practiced two faiths previously, allow that to continue. You have to respect the parenting decisions and values of your ex, even if that includes a religious belief different than yours. The differences in religious beliefs and practices will not create behavioral and emotional difficulties in your child, but conflicts between parents over those differences will cause distress. Tell your child, “Many people practice different religions. Your dad grew up celebrating Hanukkah. Your mom grew up celebrating Christmas. Both are important and all of your family want you to enjoy and celebrate the meaning and traditions of both holidays.”

The bottom line is that when adults fight — whether about Christmas or Kwanza or about organic or non-organic — and when they cannot together set consistent expectations that allow meaningful relationships with both parents, the child suffers.

JD: You have been in practice for more than 30 years. How do you think parents have gotten better at co-parenting? Are there areas where they’ve, in general, gotten worse?

EF: Real co-parenting as the cultural norm is a relatively new practice. Thirty years ago, children generally stayed with their moms and saw their dads on some weekends. Moms did most of the heavy lifting of child rearing and dads were often “Disney Dads” involved in mostly the fun and games activities. Moms made decisions about education, religion, extracurricular activities and social and moral development with dads having input on financial matters or major health issues. Dads often didn’t want or have the day-to-day responsibilities and decision-making roles, especially with young children.

Well, all that has changed. Joint legal custody — where both parents have to agree on major decisions in the child’s life, is the norm. Some forms of joint legal custody — where the child spends significant time living with each parent, are also far more common. But with more joint legal and physical custodial relationships can come more problems.

JD: If a divorced or separated parent were to take away one message from your book, what would you hope it would be?

EF: Co-parenting can promote positive growth and development in your child, even if co-parenting with an ex you hate. After divorce your child needs a meaningful relationship with both parents. She needs to see you and your ex parenting without conflict and together making important decisions in her life. You can effectively parent the child you love with an ex you hate.

Are you coordinating the holidays with an ex this year? What are your strategies?

Related Content:

Religion and parenting don’t always mix

Chores don’t lead to divorce, but they get us talking

Is overparenting killing our marriages?

Love More, Fear Less: A Mantra for the Holidays

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Unlike Halloween, it’s not about dressing up in costumes (which my best friend Jen and I do all the time; we don’t need an excuse). Unlike Christmas/Hanukah, it isn’t about gifts and shopping. It’s simply about expressing gratitude.

A recent article in The New York Times points to a growing mountain of research supporting the idea that gratitude is good for us. The article states that “cultivating an ‘attitude of gratitude’ has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners.”


Yet somehow, in the subtle way our consumer culture often does, we’ve managed to twist even my favorite holiday into a materialistic occasion. In every storefront, magazine article, and blog posting we see, we’re made to think that the real meaning of Thanksgiving is food.

Sharing a delicious, homemade meal with our loved ones is a ritual to be savored. Yet while celebrating Thanksgiving with a feast may give us an excuse to come together, we don’t have to stuff ourselves to the point of bursting to make it a happy holiday.

Too often, in fact, we eat out of fear. Psychologists call this “emotional eating.” Have you ever noticed yourself taking an extra helping of pizza or making your way to the freezer for ice cream when you are anxious, depressed, lonely, angry, or upset? Food is not the answer to our interpersonal problems. Love is.

And so, in honor of the holidays, as a reminder of its true meaning, I’d like to offer this mantra: LOVE MORE, EAT LESS.

I derived it from my personal mantra of the last several years: LOVE MORE, FEAR LESS. Here’s how my mantra evolved.

Within one month in 2005, I experienced two traumas that reshaped my existence. First, I separated from my husband and partner of nine years. Next, I watched in horror as my father’s conviction for a federal crime was plastered across the front page of the Honolulu newspaper.

My entire world crumbled. I went from a relatively smooth and easy life, in which I demanded no less than perfection from myself and those around me, to a lost soul who didn’t know who she was or what she stood for. Anxiety consumed me. I couldn’t sleep without taking pills. I became convinced, at age 32, that I’d never have a family of my own.

Yoga, meditation, poetry and spiritual books, being outdoors in nature, and the love of friends and family got me through these dark days. I began to see how fear overtakes us, causing us to act from a place of panic, a mentality of scarcity, and an attitude of grasping.

I adopted the mantra: FEAR LESS. And that helped me a great deal. I began to surrender to a higher power. I realized that no matter how hard I tried or how much I planned, I would never be able to completely control my external reality. What I could control, however was my reaction to the events that happened to me. I could choose to accept where life had taken me and make the best of it.

I often thought of the serenity prayer recited in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

My anxiety lessened. After many months of loosening my grip on the steering wheel of life, I found myself cruising down the highway and actually enjoying the view. I was invaded by peace.

Still, something was missing from my mantra…

Then, in the spring of 2010, I journeyed to Haiti post-earthquake to volunteer with my friend and role model Alison Thompson at Sean Penn’s non-profit, J/P HRO. Many friends advised against it.

“It’s too dangerous,” they said.

But I remembered to “fear less,” took a deep breath, raised several thousand dollars in donations, and ventured onward. In the tent villages of Port-au-Prince, offering counseling, hugs, and smiles to people who had lost their health, homes, and loved ones, the completion of my mantra came to me loud and clear: LOVE MORE.

Now I recite this mantra to myself on a daily basis: LOVE MORE, FEAR LESS.

By giving to others, we heal our own wounds. We become happier, more fulfilled, and even live longer. So yes, fear less: take on your demons, push yourself past your limits, be brave and bold. But also, love more, starting with yourself. You are beautiful, unique, and totally loveable. You have so much to offer the world.

So remember to bring yourself and your loved ones back to the core purpose of the occasion: Expressing gratitude. Say a little prayer. Give thanks for all that you have.

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Ron Huxley’s Resonates: Although this blog post doesn’t directly deal with parenting, it does directly relate to life. If parents could fear less and love their children more than they would escape a lot of daily hassles. Think about it…Share about it too. What do you do to “fear less”?

How to shorten your holiday gift list

Now’s a good opportunity to knock off a chunk of your holiday shopping. But before you start working through your gift list, see if you can shorten it.

First, remove anyone who doesn’t really need a present. I’m not trying to stifle your generosity; I’m just inviting you to consider if gifts are the best way to express it.

Does every service provider in your life need a gift, or would a generous tip be more helpful? Might some of your giftees feel awkward if they don’t have a gift for you?

Next, ask yourself:

How about a handwritten card instead of a gift? Teachers, especially, appreciate this.

How about a donation instead of a gift? Good for everyone who already has everything they need and may even be trying to declutter.

How about one special present instead of multiples? If Santa visits, one gift plus a full stocking is plenty. For kids, especially, the initial WOW of piles of wrapped boxes often turns into overwhelm or lack of interest (and possibly, down the road, greed and entitlement).

How about a small gift instead of a big one? Some people feel uncomfortable when presented with extravagant gifts. It’s fun to make a big splash every now and then, but usually, the best gifts are small treasures that demonstrate how well you know someone.

How about an experiential gift? Membership to a local museum, theater or performance tickets, a massage, a night in a hotel?

Paring down your gift list will save you money and time, and will help you feel calmer during the holidays. But, most importantly, it will help you express your love and gratitude to friends and family in ways everyone will appreciate.

How do you keep your gift list from getting too long?

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RelatedUse Google Documents to share family gift lists

Ron Huxley Recommends: Anything that shortens my shopping list and lightens my expenses, is a must for me…hopefully, this helps you as well. How do you deal with holidays on a budget?