For kids, Halloween is one of the most important holidays of the year. The costume, the candy, the decorations and the anticipation get kids revved up for weeks. However, the child of divorce is often faced with worries and concerns that cloud their enthusiasm. This is especially true when their parents are unwillingly to put aside their own animosity to focus on making this a child centered experience. The kids wonder, “Who will take me treat-or-treating?” “Who will get my costume and dress me?” “Where will I trick-or-treat?” and the BIG question , “Will mom and dad fight?”

       There are logistical problems for the divorced parents that require some cooperation, especially for high conflict couples. Address these issues in advance and you can assure your child a wonderful experience not marred by parental bickering.

  •  Parents often do not specify in their divorce decree who “gets” the child on October 31. If it falls on a visitation day, some children feel disappointed that they don’t get to trick-or-treat in their own neighborhood with their friends. This is particularly true for the first Halloween, when new friends and acquaintances may not have been established in the new neighborhood.
  •  In two-parent homes, often one parent gives out candy while the other parent takes the child trick-or-treating. Now there is only one parent in the home. Do you stay and give out candy or do you go with your child?
  •  Halloween reminds divorced/separated parents of the reality of joint custody and that you will not share some of your child’s experiences. So while the children are excited and happy, often one or both parents feel nostalgia and loss for what was.
  •  In time, as the child grows comfortable with his two homes, he/she will enjoy the “doubles” of divorced families, such as two vacations, two Christmases, and two birthday celebrations. However, Halloween can’t be celebrated on another day. For the child THIS day is the holiday.
  •  Halloween is a peer driven/child event. Most children want to go trick or treating with their friends and in their own neighborhood. This is especially true as they get older and develop close-knit peer groups.

 Parents should listen clearly to what their children want to do on Halloween. This does not mean “making them choose.” It means paying attention to the child’s comfort level and enthusiasm. Then make plans in a way that can meet the child’s needs. Some things to keep in mind:

  1.  The child should be allowed to trick-or-treat with friends in his familiar surroundings. If extended family members want to see the child dressed up, they should come to where the child is, rather than dragging the child around and taking him/her away from his/her peers.
  2.  It can be a positive experience if both parents can be involved with the process. One parent takes the child out and then other stays back at the house giving out candy. Unlike other scenarios, this one will not give children the false hope of the parents reuniting. Rather it says to the child, my parents can “rally” beyond their problems to do what is best for me. (If you are a high conflict couple skip this step- Maybe next year…)
  3.  Limit candy intake. This is always important at Halloween, as kids are already pretty wired. This is especially so in a newly-separated/divorced family where there may be added stress or tension. Two homes does not mean two times the candy!
  4.  Picture taking is important. When possible the child should have photos with each parent separately, again reinforcing the fact that while the parents are no longer a couple, they are both still involved with the child.
  5.  If the preparation/purchase of costume becomes an issue, let the parent who was responsible for costumes in the past make the decision/purchase this year. Next year you can begin to alternate that responsibility.

             In the future, as the child becomes more comfortable in his new home and has made connections with children in that neighborhood, trick-or-treating can be alternated. There may be possibilities of trick-or-treating in both neighborhoods as the child gets older and if the neighborhoods are close or if the holiday falls on the weekend. Remember this is the child’s holiday. Your goal is to make this day a joyous experience rich in fun memories. Make it all about the child! The adults have plenty of other holidays to enjoy. This one belongs to the child.

© 2012 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice and is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.

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One Comment

  1. Sugel on the 24. Oct, 2012 remarked #

    You’ll also feel good about having done right by your kids. The other thing that experts agree on is that although divorce is difficult and stressful for kids no matter what, the real harm to kids comes from being subjected to conflict between parents. The longer that lasts, and the more severe it is, the worse it is for your children. If you truly want to shield your children from the pain of divorce, recognize that the more you take the high road with your spouse, the better job you’ll do.

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