What is normally a happy, satisfying, sentimental time of year can feel drastically different the year following a divorce or separation. Many people are anxious or sad when thinking of what “new” holidays will feel like. Whether the separation was your choice or not, planned or not, it is common for both people to struggle or worry when heading into their first holiday season. So how do you begin to navigate the holidays post-divorce or separation?
Adjust Your Expectations
First, adjust your expectations for yourself – even intact families’ holidays are less than perfect. Resist the temptation to feel that this year’s holidays will be “less than” because of the separation. Accept the holiday season for what it is and what it offers – additional time to spend with friends and family, a time for contemplation, and a time to practice gratitude. Neither you nor your children will remember how the food turned out, or how the tree was decorated, or the number of presents under it. You will remember how you bonded, how you chose to embrace a new future, new adventure, and new traditions. Don’t get wrapped up in the superficial measuring of the holidays, focus on what truly counts. Keep it simple.
Be flexible, generous, and gracious with your ex. Even when the courtesy is not returned. Your children will be immensely grateful, especially when they are older and can recognize how much grace it took to be kind in a difficult or hurtful situation. When dealing with timesharing during the holidays, remember that an hour difference here or there will not ruin a holiday – but a massive fight, with the children, possibly witnessing it, or worse, threats of a court action or police involvement will ruin a holiday. Whenever possible, this is the time to be flexible in all things – transportation, exchanges, gift planning, and travel. Even if graciousness isn’t returned this season, it might be in the next. And if not, who cares, your children will be happy, protected from conflict, and grateful.
Set the Tone
Always look at it from your child(ren)’s perspective, and set the tone. While the pain or hurt of separation can be difficult to set aside, try to see the holidays from your children’s perspective. If you can adopt a positive, adventurous attitude, so will your children. That’s not to say there might not be sad moments too, and children need to know it is ok to feel exactly what they are feeling – but they see their parents as the barometer of what is happening in the world.
They literally do not have the life experience required to process the current situation and put it in its proper perspective. They will follow your lead on how you see it. If Mom and Dad are sad at times, but overall optimistic, and determined to have a great holiday, then the kids will also see that it is ok to start a new beginning. That’s a life skill they will use many times in their lives.
Establish New Traditions
Establish new traditions, they will be just as treasured as the old ones. While looking at the holidays from your children’s perspective and honoring some of their past holiday traditions, make sure you mix it up! What new, fun tradition could be created? Is it handmaking new ornaments each year, a new menu item (or a whole new menu theme), or a new activity? There’s nothing wrong with trying something new if some of the old traditions aren’t possible anymore.
Take Care of Yourself Because Learning How to Navigate the Holidays Post-Divorce is Hard
Finally, take care of yourself. Now is not the time to be inconsistent with counseling, a healthy diet, outdoor activities, exercise, or massage. Give yourself time to feel how you feel, and give yourself a break. The first holiday season after separation does not have to be perfect. No season ever is. The key is being grateful for what is, and teaching gratitude to your children. In the end, it is gratitude that brings happiness.
What are your tips on how to navigate the holidays post-divorce or separation?