One of the most painful tasks for parents who are in the middle of a divorce or family transition is facing the upcoming holidays. From how to spend the holiday, how to communicate with the child's other parent, to making decisions about finances and being stressed about time, holidays post-divorce evoke significantly more stress than normal holiday anxieties.
Though parents experiencing divorce may not feel like celebrating any holiday or feel very relieved that they are not living with a former partner, their children may feel very differently.
There are key factors to consider in handling the holidays that may help you to survive and feel like you did your best:
- What can you as a parent handle? Be honest with yourself and how you feel.
- Be honest with your children about your limitations and what you can handle. Approach them in a way that doesn't burden them with your feelings. Ask them what would help them during the holidays.
- Recognize that rituals are symbolic and often treasured by children and adults. If possible, try to have some of your family's traditional rituals and include your children in creating new ones.
- Be realistic about your time, your energy and finances. What your children really want is a healthy parent who can share some holiday "cheer" with them. The thrill of gifts dissipates quickly; the memory of a special time together lasts forever.
- Work with your child's other parent. Instead of competing with who will spend the most money on gifts, if possible, make a priority list together and either divide the list or combine financial resources and get one big gift you can each contribute to and give to your child.
- Consider your child's age, personality and adjustment to the separation or divorce when planning the holiday. Many children totally dread going back and forth or may be spending their first holiday with both parents separately. Think about what is best for your child and not you and your extended family. Ask relatives to understand and plan dinners and brunches around what works for your children.
- Whether or not you share time with your child's co parent and your child is up to you and your child's other parent. Can you be civil to each other, can your children be relaxed and enjoy their time with the two of you? Will your child become confused seeing his parents together?
- Holidays do not have to be celebrated on the actual date! Celebrate at a later time if that works better. Make sure you communicate with your child's other parent and work out how the holidays will be celebrated months before the actual date.
Holidays evoke losses that go beyond a separation and divorce. We all have picture perfect images of the ideal holidays that we imagine everyone else having. Holidays trigger not only the loss of family as one may have known it but other losses: jobs, moves, extended family, friends.
I have seen through our volunteer child, teen and adult peer counselor program the mutual value of giving to each other. The peer counselors we train say that "I feel better and stronger when I am able to reach out to others." "It makes me realize how far I have come when I can talk about my experience." You may not be at this point but you may reach out to someone who can be there for you and your child. Reach out, take a chance. You do not have to be alone if you don't want to be alone. If you can, invite someone who doesn't have family or take your children to a senior center or shelter that allows children to assist during a holiday meal. We are all part of the circle of humanity and while your family transition may preclude all that you would like for yourself and your child, your holiday doesn't have to be lonely and isolating.
May you and your family and friends enjoy peace and happiness this holiday season.