It may not be sung about in Christmas carols, mentioned in holiday cards, or seen in decorations adorning homes, but stress can be as much a part of the holiday season as family, gifts, and the joyful laughter of children. This is particularly true for parents emerging from the trauma of divorce. Holiday stress can overwhelm all the tidings of good cheer that are supposed to define this most wonderful time of the year. The disruption of lifelong traditions and the logistical challenges of kids spending the holidays in multiple households with separate families can magnify the feelings of sadness and loss that often follow the end of a marriage.
Every parent wants to create as much holiday magic as they can for their kids, keeping conflict and upheaval tucked away far behind the tinsel. But this stew of emotions – which may be as present in children as it is in their parents – can make that easier said than done.
Whether you are about to experience your first holiday season as a divorced parent or have a few yuletides under your belt already, keep these helpful tips in mind as you prepare to deck the halls:
In With the New
Kids will likely feel a significant loss of routine, comfort, and familiarity during those first post-divorce holidays. Many of the traditions that defined the season for them (and you) may no longer be part of the program, including where they spend Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and who they spend those times with.
But even the oldest traditions weren’t always so; all traditions start somewhere. Make this year the one which starts new traditions for your family. Create new, fun, and creative ways to celebrate that can become touchstones of your holidays going forward. Years from now, you may look back fondly on this holiday season as the genesis of what becomes some of your most cherished traditions.
Blanket Yourself with Love and Friendship
For some folks, being alone after being together with someone they loved for many years is the most emotionally difficult part of divorce. During a season that so emphasizes love, as well as joy and family, these feelings of loss and loneliness easily can quickly devolve into isolation and depression. As hard as it may be, don’t shut out the world around you during the holidays. Remember the joys of the season and the many friends and family members whose support and love were not lost in your divorce. Don’t avoid holiday parties or gatherings in favor of staying home by yourself, lamenting your circumstances.
Give Yourself the Gift of Some Slack
As hard as you try, as much as you may focus on making the holidays perfect for your kids, not everything is going to be sugar plums and eggnog. Kids may get sad, be disappointed, or act out. Your feelings and emotions may come through the cracks of the brave façade you are keeping up for the sake of your children.
Stop trying to be perfect. Don’t feel bad about feeling bad every once in a while. Allow yourself moments of imperfection and weakness, but then return to all of the positive and beautiful things about the season that endure – your kids first and foremost - even though your marriage didn’t.
Make Those Holiday Plans Now
The final divorce decree and parenting plan it incorporates should spell out pretty clearly the nuts and bolts of holiday custody and visitation arrangements. But most co-parents know that as unambiguous as that document may be, there is always room for miscommunication or disagreement no matter what the season.
Minimize the potential for conflict by confirming this year’s plans well in advance of the holidays, ideally before you sit down for turkey on Thanksgiving. Make sure that any proposed changes to the existing schedule are discussed and agreed upon if possible. Once everything is clear, try to avoid any last-minute requests to modify holiday plans, keeping in mind that your ex has likely relied upon the agreed-upon schedule in making their own plans.
Be on time and where you are supposed to be for pick-ups and drop-offs and keep the lines of communication open in case truly unavoidable circumstances arise such as traffic or canceled flights.
If you aren’t yet using a co-parenting app, the holidays are a great time to start. Apps such as Fayr offer divorced parents the gift of easy and clear communication which reduce the risk of avoidable conflicts and misunderstandings. Calendaring features keep everybody on the same page regarding what’s going on, where the kids are, and what each parent should be doing. A co-parenting app can be the gift you give yourself this holiday season; one that can help keep the humbug at bay all year long.