Navigating the holidays through or after a divorce can be stressful for parents and children alike. If this is your first holiday season following a separation or divorce, you may feel a sense of added stress when it comes to planning who is hosting or how and when gifts will be exchanged. Even more so, it may be tough to keep the spirit of the season alive and maintain a sense of family and togetherness for your children. Your children’s perceived loss of traditions and normalcy will be heightened during the holidays, but it is important to model healthy coping skills that will communicated to your children that life will sort it itself out and everyone will be okay.
In my Hermosa Beach therapy practice, I work with many adults, couples, and children who are going through separation, divorce and other life transitions. While the pain you and your children may be feeling cannot be ignored or taken away, there are some ways to make the transition smoother. There are four main areas you will want to be aware of so you can more effectively navigate them, both on an individual and family level.
Feeling more emotional or experiencing more frequent ups and downs during the holidays is normal. This is especially true when complicated family dynamics like divorce or separation are added to the mix. That is why it is especially importance to take note of and monitor your and your children’s emotional state. Children tend to take emotional cues from adults, so if you are struggling to manage your feelings of anger, sadness, or resentment, your children will likely manifest these same emotional reactions.
So, what can you do? Kids like to know what is going to happen so that they can plan and be prepared for how it is going to make them feel. They do not like the unknown. Therefore, it is very helpful to talk to your children about what is going to be different this year and what they can count on staying the same. Map out the days with them, where they will be celebrating, and with who, so that they are not left with the stress and fear of the unknown or unanticipated.
Creating a new normal can be tough. Whether you went through a smooth separation or a difficult one, be sure to stay positive. Being willing to compromise is going to be extremely important when it comes to how you and your spouse split up the season with your respective families. Just because you no longer have a good relationship with your ex, does not mean your children shouldn’t be able to make their own decisions about how they choose to relate to them. When they see you acting cordial and warmhearted, it is more likely that they will follow this example.
Children love to participate in gift giving and receiving. No matter how you feel about your ex or his/her family, make sure your child still brings presents to give. Try to keep in mind that this does not symbolize that the gift is coming from “you” if you don’t want it to, it is purely a sentiment from your child. Not only does gift giving help your children feel the joy and excitement around the holidays, but it also helps restore some of their sense of security and tradition this time of year.
Unfortunately, not every tradition will be able to remain intact as the structure of your family changes. Although it can be important to maintain one or two, making new traditions for you and your children can be fun and positive. A couple of activities that you can do to enhance the meaning of the holidays are volunteering at a local shelter or adopting a family. These will help you make new meaningful traditions instead of getting hung up on old ones that are no longer possible.
Conquering the holidays after a separation or divorce can be extremely difficult for both parents and children. However, there are many ways to work through it in a positive, healthy manner. Take the time throughout the season to do personal check-ins with yourself. Keeping yourself emotionally afloat is very important as you redefine the holidays for your children. If you are in need of a little extra emotional support, do not hesitate to contact me through phone or email to set up an appointment. I have helped many families work through similar situations. I look forward to hearing from you. Happy Holidays!