The holidays are a normally stressful time, even if your family hasn’t just gone through a painful separation. In addition to all the typical stressors of the season, divorced parents are faced with a whole new set of complications and challenges: figuring out plans, blending traditions, and deciding where festivities will be held.
It is always best to minimize the effects of these changes by first and foremost communicating with your ex and making every attempt to be on the same page. The holidays can lead to heightened conflict between divorced parents, but remember, your kids take their cues from you! If you appear to be stressed, angry, or upset, your kids will pick up on that and act accordingly—which is the last thing you want!
It is easier said than done even if your divorce was amicable. Remember the one thing you will always have in common is that you love your kids and want the best for them. Whether a parent has sole custody or shared decision making, the first set of holidays following the divorce will be the most difficult for all family members. You are still figuring out what works, dealing with the loss of those shared family customs, and scrambling to come up with new traditions. Even though parents may be dealing with their own sense of grief, the holidays are a time when it becomes more important than ever to attempt cordiality. Every commercial, movie, and TV program out during this time reinforces the cultural belief of togetherness and family during the holidays, and children are particularly sensitive to feeling lost or displaced because of drastic changes.
Sit down with your former spouse before the madness begins, away from the listening ears of curious offspring. Hammer out some sort of equality regarding gift-giving, so that no one feels like they are “losing” at parenting. Maybe set a spending limit or agree on a joint gift to promote that equilibrium. Remember that if you make parenting a game where someone wins and someone loses, the only person that really loses is the child being bickered over.
So much is changing, and some traditions will have to be scrapped altogether. Many people choose to have an open conversation with children about which traditions are most important to them, and how to keep them up under these new circumstances, sometimes without one parent or the other. Maybe one parent does a gift on Christmas Eve and the other does the stockings… Families can also use the new arrangements as an opportunity to bond over establishing new traditions. The goal of the holiday time is to make happy memories for the children’s future.
The plan going forward should establish in detail where everyone is going to be, at what time, and with the needs of the children being the primary focus. Agreements with respect to parental communication, decision-making, accommodating changes, and spending time separately and together is crucial to avoiding crises during what is a special and sacred time for children and parents. Children will thrive when spending time with both parents and extended families, especially during the holidays.
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