The official ‘holiday’ season has begun! Each year, starting with Halloween, we begin what many anticipate with either dread or excitement. For those of us going through divorce, this may be either a welcome reprieve, or an all-new stress that can be all-consuming at times, making the holiday season even more stressful.
When I was going through my divorce, the thought of not being with my kids on either Thanksgiving or Christmas was devastating. I was being told I had to ‘share’ my kids like they were property, and I didn’t like it one bit. Our parenting agreement had us alternating years for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve, and then ‘sharing’ Christmas Day–one year they wake up at my home, the other at his, then heading to the other home at noon. This has worked fairly well, except for all the feelings I get when the kids aren’t with me.
Navigating the co-parenting waters was also a challenge for me in the first few years. Sure, we had our parenting agreement to fall back on, but there were times that I learned I had to be flexible about that plan, and that meant dealing with my ex. For many, this can be daunting. I hope the tips I provide below can be helpful for your situation.
>Communicate with your former partner.
This is the time of year to be flexible, rather than fighting. Planning the holiday ‘schedule’ well in advance will help ease some of the tension for both of you because you will know what to expect. If you and your partner are not able to communicate well for this purpose, you can pick up the book BIFF for CoParent Communication by Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.. His book gives you tips and strategies about changing the way you communicate in order to keep the conflict level low and actually get results. BIFF stands for ‘brief, informative, friendly, and firm’, and outlines how communicating with these 4 points in mind can help calm a tense situation.
When you are crafting your parenting plan, keep in mind that what makes sense and works today, when you have young or younger kids, might not work or make sense when your kids are teens. Young kids need to see you both more frequently, can only do certain activities for a shorter time, and need more rest. Older kids might want and need more time with friends, rather than family; try to build in opportunities for them to see their friends and participate in parties, etc. Both parents should be supportive of these activities regardless of whose ‘time’ it is.
Remaining flexible even after you have an official parenting plan is important as well. You want to be sure that your kids are the beneficiaries of whatever schedule there is,, and if that means having to deviate from it in order to accommodate them, then do it!
>Keep it all about the kids.
Remember that your kids love the holidays. You are the adults and it is your job to make it fun for them, regardless of how you feel about each other. If a really great opportunity to see Santa or visit with Grandma for Hanukkah comes up on a night that is ‘yours’, put your schedule aside and let them go–because they will have a great time and that is a gift you can give them.
>Create new traditions.
Find things that you and your kids love to do and make them special to fit your ‘new’ family. They will come to look forward to these things every year. Some traditions your kids may want to hang on to, and don’t be afraid to do that either. There may be things from your marriage that, for them, make the holiday special–whether it’s where you get your Christmas tree, or foods you make, or activities you do. It’s ok to do these things AND create new traditions that they will love. If you have older kids, they can suggest things that they would like to do.
Also, be prepared for some sadness/nostalgia from the kids, but let them have their feelings. Putting them in the position of faking happiness about having two Thanksgiving dinners only teaches them that their feelings don’t matter. Instead, try saying things like, ‘I know you’ll miss Grandma’s stuffing this year,” or, “ I see you are sad that you won’t see Dad on Christmas Eve,” can be validating for them and will help them process their feelings.
>Take time for self care.
I can’t stress the importance of this enough! Take a moment every day–even 5 minutes–to meditate, stretch, journal, or whatever gets you centered. Stay committed to your yoga practice, or Zumba class, or three-mile run. These things will help you feel grounded by keeping your routine–and getting your blood flowing and heart pumping is good for your overall health and mental well being!
Make a plan in advance for the times you will be without your kids this holiday season, because you probably will not have them ALL the time. Decide now how you want to spend that time. For some, it might feel right to book a spa day and read a book. For others, that might feel too lonely; reach out to friends to get together if that feels right. The idea is, have a plan in advance and do what feels right for you.
The holidays are a time for making connections and memories. During divorce, there is added stress on top of all the busy-ness and excitement that might be hard for kids to handle. Give yourself and your kids a little grace during this time. If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to scale back your plans. Sometimes making cookies and watching a Christmas movie at home is just what they need.
Need help negotiating a co-parenting relationship with your ex, or navigating something else in the divorce process? I’d love to help you. Feel free to reach out to me or follow me on Instagram for practical tips and advice.