The Holiday Survival Guide for Divorced Parents
The holidays are just around the corner! It makes sense for divorced parents to start planning early to make the holidays as stress-free as possible for everyone involved. This post discusses some of the challenges (anticipated and unanticipated) divorce can create over the holidays and provides some helpful insights to address them.
So what does make the holiday season so stressful for those who are newly divorced or are going through a divorce? Chiefly, it’s memories. They often conjure happier times and a sense of nostalgia. As a result, a complex cocktail of emotions tends to surface. The unknown can be terrifying when a marriage breaks apart; it’s difficult to face the newness of change and the loneliness that may follow.
For many, loneliness is exceptionally difficult to face. While it can feel liberating for some, it can also prove exceptionally negative for others. The latter is especially true when individuals dwell on the past and make comparisons to their current situation. Individuals allow the “good times” to redeem the glaring reasons for divorce, resulting in doubt, pain, sadness, and other negative feelings.
With this knowledge, what is a helpful frame of mind for divorced parents as they plan for the holidays? Which beliefs and expectations can serve them well and which ones can get in their way?
Attitude influences how individuals handle adversity. Change is a natural part of life and accepting change is vital to good mental health. A positive attitude is particularly important in discussing and addressing the divorce process with children—not only during the holidays but also year-round. Furthermore, a belief in, and anticipation of good things to come help individuals move forward and heal.
How can divorced parents discuss changes in the holidays with their children to help them cope?
Parents need to show compassion. They need to listen and allow their children to vent about their feelings, regrets, and frustrations. They also need to acknowledge what their kids are expressing and validate their feelings. Some children will suppress their feelings in an effort to protect those they love the most. Parents need to reassure their children that it’s ‘okay’ to express their feelings and ask questions about how the divorce will affect them.
Parents should reassure their kids that, even after divorce, some activities will remain as an important part of their holiday celebration while new traditions will also be incorporated.
Developing fun, new holiday traditions is a great way to start a new chapter and lay the foundation for many holidays to come. Parents should think about new ways to celebrate, new places to visit, and new foods to prepare. By creating a fresh set of traditions, parents give their children something to look forward to. Furthermore, if parents are excited about introducing new experiences, their children will often follow suit.
How can parents navigate time away from their children during the holidays?
One of the most challenging, and often painful consequences of divorce for parents is the time when their children are visiting the other parent. This alone time can feel exceptionally sad and empty—particularly during the holidays. Parents alone during the winter holidays should seek the company of other friends and family and fill their time with activities like hobbies, recreational sports, and volunteering. By engaging in positive social interaction and activities, divorced parents are less likely to dwell on negative feelings and therefore, are less likely to inadvertently make their child feel guilty about spending time with the other parent.
The following list of suggestions is for divorced parents who find themselves alone over the holidays:
- Create a journal of holiday activities to share with the kids when they return.
- Send an email or “text message of the day” to the kids with a theme. Perhaps it’s the “Staying Warm Tip of the Day,” “Favorite Storybook of the Day,” “Favorite Dessert of the Day,” “Sledding Tip of the Day,” etc. Basically, it’s just another way to stay in touch.
- Make plans to see the same movie the kids are seeing, on the same day. Even though they are far away, it still serves as a shared experience. Schedule a phone call to discuss the movie with them later.
- Sometimes individuals engage in too much self-reflection and it results in negativity. Focus on helping others in the community. It promotes connectivity, positive energy, and benefits those who are less fortunate.