As a child of divorce, I remember many holidays with my parents. Because my parents lived close to one another, traveling between the two houses (as well as two grandparents’ homes) were not all that difficult for my two siblings and myself. We would spend time with both parents on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so holiday time didn’t feel all complicated. I don’t remember much strife between my parents. If there was – am I sure there was – they did a very good job of hiding it.
There is a level of undue pressure that is put on people to create happiness during the holidays. Yet, we all know it just doesn’t always work out that way. Families come with a long history – both good and not so good. Divorced families have a whole other level of stress that is often part of the holidays. Divorce is difficult enough; add holiday time and everyone’s stress increases.
Here are 9 ways to make your holiday celebration time less stressful for you and your children.
1. Stress awareness.
Knowing that the holidays add a whole new level of stress beyond the day-to-day stress can help you plan better. Talk about it. Come up with a plan. Sometimes when we know that it will be difficult, we start thinking about how to reduce our stress. We don’t deny, we just find ways to live with it.
2. It isn’t about you.
Remember that your children have two parents, and both of you are important to them. Spending time with the other doesn’t mean they don’t want to be with you – they’re children! They want both of you. Don’t take things so personally when they get upset or want to spend more time with their other parent. They are trying to figure things out, too. The holidays are for your children. This is hugely important to keep in mind.
3. You may need to adjust your expectations.
Try to stay focused on your children’s needs and how your decisions might be affecting their holiday time. Don’t expect too much. Don’t expect that they will be further along or happy with decisions. Although it is hard not to have expectations, we tend to get disappointed when we do. Have more of an open mind, especially if the divorce is new and/or this is your first holiday apart.
4. Decide on your plan before the holidays.
By planning ahead and letting everyone know what the plans are in advance, everyone can be prepared. This is being proactive rather than reactive (the ‘knee jerk’ reaction is problematic). We become anxious when we don’t know what’s going on. People do better when they know what the plan is – even if they don’t always agree with it.
5. Create new traditions as a new family.
Your family is still your family – just defined a little differently. This might be a good time to ‘shake things up’ and make the holidays a little different. Sometimes keeping things the same – to the degree you can – is good, but sometimes a little change helps children recognize that a new tradition might be fun. Get them involved! Ask them what they might want to do differently. You might be surprised by their answers.
6. Keep the routine.
As much as divorce (and life, for that matter) – is about change things, some routine and sameness for children is important. Too much change can overwhelm them. When deciding on your plans, think about what needs to change and what can stay the same. Even a little routine can help get you and your family over the hump.
7. Lighten up!
Your kids will take cues from you. If you are stressed, angry, or bitter, they will feel those same feelings and be deeply affected by them. Manage your feelings effectively without burdening them. Turn to friends or family to help you through this time of year.
8. Validate and listen to their feelings.
Children have their own journey through divorce just like you. They rely on both parents to be available to them, both emotionally and physically. Encourage them to open up and share their feelings – especially the guilt they often feel. They might have feelings about the happy holidays of yesteryear and want to know if they will be happy again during the holidays. Remember that they are still children – no matter their age or how ‘mature’ they may appear to be.
9. Stay flexible.
Even we plan and hope for the best, things can go wrong. That’s just life. But how you handle the ups and downs of life is key to surviving the already stressful holidays. How will you handle any changes? Are there other options? Ask, if I am not flexible, how will this affect my children?
Remember, going from being married to divorced is a major life transition. There is no way around that!
Levity, humor, flexibility, and the knowledge that we are all in this together and a work in progress that continues to evolve and grow will help you manage holiday time in a healthier!