5 Tips for Handling the Holidays when you’re Getting Divorced
Holidays are promoted as a time of joy, gift giving and receiving, eating meals and enjoying holiday traditions with family, and delighting in life’s blessings. For families going through the upheaval of divorce, holidays can be a time of great stress, discord and despair over the loss of many of those things. Family traditions have to be reimagined. Financial constraints might mean a leaner holiday. Arguments over how to “share the kids” over the holidays can be a source of conflict and stress.
Here are some tips on managing these and other issues during this holiday season if you happen to be going through a divorce or family restructuring.
Create new traditions. Instead of focusing on what you’re missing, create a new tradition to replace the one that you won’t be enjoying this year. This could mean opening gifts at a different time, planning a big Christmas Eve dinner instead of Christmas Day, having Thanksgiving dinner on a Friday instead of a Thursday, etc. Children can be more flexible than adults. They’ll enjoy the celebration, regardless of the time.
Have a written agreement. Try to create a written plan for sharing, splitting or alternating all of the important holidays as soon as possible. Planning joint celebrations may work in the short term. However, one day, you won’t want to share that holiday with your ex, his new girlfriend, and your new boyfriend. Have a plan to divide them by either alternating the day or dividing it. Follow any agreements that you already have.
Minimize conflict. Try to pick your battles and avoid creating unnecessary conflicts. Ask yourself, “how important is it?” before saying something that you know is only going to ignite an argument. Also, remember that you don’t have to go to every argument you’re invited to. Sometimes the best response is no response at all. If conflicts arise that can’t be avoided, try to work it out with a mediator or parenting coordinator. Don’t call the police to enforce parenting plans; they can’t do anything and it just escalates the conflict.
Protect the kids from any conflict. Children need to be able to be kids, and not worry about adult issues. Don’t make your children your confidants and tell them all the things that your co-parent has done wrong. It causes children needless stress and anxiety, and ultimately, alienates them from you.
Have a support system. Studies have shown that holidays are times of enormous stress for a large percentage of people. This is especially true of people going through divorce or other family restructuring. Find a good therapist to work with to manage these feelings. Reach out to other family members and include them in your holiday plans if you’re lucky enough to have family that can be supportive. If you don’t have supportive family, gather supportive friends and benefit from the support of that chosen family.
Whatever you do, try can remember that “this too shall pass”. When you emerge from the other side of your divorce, you’ll create a whole new set of holiday traditions and they will become your “new normal”.