The first few years weathering the holidays after a separation or divorce can be complicated, not to mention stressful, sad, and lonely. Some of the traditions your family had for years may no longer be possible and you might be left trying to figure out what to do. It is also a time to be reflective and gracious and empowering in the creation of new traditions for yourself and your family.
But holidays can be happy after divorce. Here are some tips to help you manage.
As you approach this milestone in your divorce process, it’s important to take the time to honor the loss. Whether the holidays were a happy and joyful time of year in your family, or a stressful and difficult to manage, it may be difficult to think about this drastic change in your life.
I can also be helpful to take a realistic view of what the holidays have been. Many people “sugar-coat” the holidays because the spirit of the season can be so powerful – in reality, perhaps the holidays were not as joyful as you had hoped they would be, especially if you and your former spouse were in conflict.
More than anything holidays are about children and this will be their first holiday season with a new family configuration too.
Finding ways to wrap your head around the holidays is a helpful place to start. Review your Parenting Plan, make sure it is clear and you understand the plan well. If your Parenting Plan has not been finalized or if there are areas that seem unclear – review the plan with your former spouse to ensure you each have the same expectation of the time for each day. Some people recommend that rather than attempting to “split the day” that one parent alternate years planning their celebration on the day before or after. This way of planning can help families spend a whole day together on the holiday and can cut down on confusion, cause for conflict, and potential interruption to the newly established traditions. It can also better accommodate the possibility of travel.
When you have a clear understanding of the time you will and will not be with the kids it’s time to start planning.
Children, especially children over 4, will be aware of the changes to their family. With your guidance and support they’ll be able to see this change as a chance to set up new, special time together. If you can, let them have a few ideas to pick from so they can help share in the shaping of these new traditions.
Model the spirit of the season to your children, be kind and open about this new change. If they know you are a little sad, that’s okay - it may help them talk about any sadness they are feeling. Taking control of this step can also model to your children that they too can overcome sadness by creating experiences that shape their world. It is your time to develop the tradition in the direction you want. Remember traditions aren’t just about eating and gifts – sights, sounds, smells, and activities can all be part of your new plan AND triggering these senses can also create fonder and more concrete memories in the minds of your children!
Finally, think about the time you won’t be with the children. Think about how you want to spend that time – friends, family, volunteer, quiet, movies, books, walks, trips. Taking care of yourself during this time will make this new milestone one of renewal and gratitude. Something we all need more of.
When the holidays are over and you and your family have returned to a more regular routine take a few minutes to reflect. What went well or felt special? What do you want to keep for next year? Are there things you want to tweak or change? Is it possible to reach out to your former spouse to share your observations, especially your positive ones?
Wishing you and your family happy holidays this year and in the future.