The first holiday season after a separation or divorce can be difficult and challenging. Powerful memories can be stirred up about the advantages of the traditional two-parent household. It can also be a time for creativity by establishing new traditions for your household and getting the kids involved.
- Keeping the Status Quo: If you and the other parent want to attend holiday celebrations together and can treat each other respectfully without creating any drama, then go ahead and do it. But if the idea of getting together with an ex-spouse and pretending you are a united family is depressing, then it is time to do something different. If you power through “for the sake of the children”, it can be confusing for them even though they may wish you were still married. Kids are aware of tension between parents and insisting on being together can delay your progress in finding a new family identity. As a parent, you need to believe and demonstrate that your new family structure is capable of being loving and having fun just the way it is.
- Encourage Time with the Other Parent: Encourage your children to spend time with both parents during the holiday season, if possible. This can reduce anxiety for your kids worrying about having to choose one parent over the other. Your attitude is critical. If either you or the other parent acts full of self-pity or expresses anger about being left out, your children can feel guilty about leaving you to spend time with their other parent. They will be grateful to be relieved of hearing debilitating negotiations between their parents fighting over the schedule. Children need a relaxed and loving time with family and friends.
- Plan your Holiday Celebrations in Advance: Children and parents can do well with structure and knowing ahead of time what to expect. Don’t drift into the holiday season waiting for something wonderful to happen or overload your schedule with obligations that crowd out the activities you value. Talk to your children about how to set up spending time with as many family members as possible, working to minimize their disappointment and fatigue. Remain flexible about holiday arrangements as needs change.
- Initiate New Traditions: Old memories don’t sting as much when everyone is involved in creating activities that signal a new beginning for your family. Gather the kids for a family meeting. Get everyone talking about what old traditions are important to keep and who they want to spend time with. It is also an opportunity to create new ideas and ways of doing things. Decide on realistic expectations and your role in making it happen. Brainstorming ideas is a powerful way to teach your children what they think and want has value. Choose traditions that work for most of the family and cause the least hurt and inconvenience.
- Giving Gifts: Set realistic spending limits. Look for money leaks (impulse buying). Beware of overdoing the presents to your children. It is natural for some parents to feel guilty about breaking up their traditional family. It can be tempting to compensate with presents. What children really need is reassurance they are loved and the security of knowing they can grow and learn to be happy in their new family structure.