Guest contributor Deepa Menon shares helpful ideas to make it easier for divorced and divorcing parents to reduce stress and enjoy time with their children during the holidays.
While the holidays are supposed to be a time of togetherness, tradition, and peace, we all know that the holidays can be stressful. Holidays during and after a major family change, like a divorce, can be even more intense as people try to anticipate what the transition will look like and how to deal with their new realities. These stresses can be even more intense for parents and children.
Here are some tips to help parents manage this stress:
1. Plan, Plan, Plan
For divorced parents, the holiday schedule is usually part of the orders coming out of the divorce. For parents who are in the divorce process where there isn’t an order defining the holiday schedule, work with your co-parent, and your attorney, if you have one. Consider your level of communication: would it be possible to do certain activities together? A family dinner with all the relatives could be too much, but ice skating, or a drive around town to check out holiday decorations might be possible.
As much as possible, make sure your child understands exactly where he or she will be spending the holiday. Depending on the age of your child, marking plans on a calendar may help your child to conceptualize where they will be, and with which parent. If you’re not able to spend the holiday with your child, talk with your co-parent about arranging a phone call or a Skype session with your child on the holiday itself. Knowing that he or she will have some contact with you on the day itself can be very comforting to a child.
2. Take Care of Yourself
Getting a divorce is an emotional time, and the holidays can push that into overdrive (especially if you are answering questions about it from nosey relatives!). Taking care of yourself comes in many forms: if you’re spending the holiday away from your children, it might include making sure that you have other plans for yourself. Turning to supportive friends and family can also help. While we all want to avoid being “Debbie Downer”, your loved ones understand that this is a difficult time and want to be there for you.
3. Guilts, I Mean GIFTS
Often unconsciously, divorcing parents can go overboard with gift giving. There tend to be two underlying causes. The first is feeling guilty that your kids are going through a divorce and that your family (as you’ve known it) is changing. The other reason, depending on how contentious your relationship is with your co-parent, can be a sense of competition over who gives the children more/better presents. Needless to say, try to avoid gift “contests” and over-giving. On the topic of gifts, help your child choose a gift for the other parent. As difficult as that might sound, it is a small gesture that shows your child that you respect their relationship with your co-parent.
4. Let Your Children Be Children
Your child is concerned about maintaining a relationship with both of his or her parents. Hearing negative information about either of you, especially from one of their parents, is very difficult for a child. This is true year-round, but a reminder might be helpful: do not speak badly about your co-parent in front of (or to) your child (the saying “little pitchers have big ears” is true!). Reach an agreement with your co-parent that you will not discuss outstanding issues in front of the kids (not even on the telephone!).
5. New Traditions
Attempting to re-create your former traditions can be difficult at best, so why not try creating a few new ones? Here are some ideas: volunteer at a local soup kitchen or food bank, have breakfast for dinner the night before the holiday, or have a family photo session. Ask your children for their input on new family traditions.
The holidays are rarely as “Norman Rockwell” as we’d like, but hopefully, by implementing a few of these tips, your holidays can be less stressful, and you can focus on enjoying your time with your child.
About the Author
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