Ho, ho, ho—hum. If you’re a divorced family and have transitioned from one family into two, the holidays can be a trying time. What once was considered a wonderful time of the year can be different after a divorce. But it doesn’t have to be a time of sadness and despair.
The first and most important thing to remember is to put your children’s happiness first. If ever there was a time to think about peace on earth and good will toward men (and women), it’s the holiday season. Yes, that applies to the ex as well. If possible, keep the important traditions going. You may have to tweak them a bit or reinvent them altogether. This is a great time to start new traditions with your children, but don’t be too quick to abandon the old ones just because it may not be the same for you. Remember, it’s about how your children feel. It’s not about you or the ex.
It’s always best to plan ahead. Communicate. Don’t forget you are creating two separate holiday celebrations and there is a lot to do as far as coordination and travel. Be clear with your co-parent how and when you will celebrate. If it’s possible to for you and the ex to share time together with the children during the holiday, like dinner or breakfast with gift opening, the children will appreciate it. Be aware of your limits, though; too much togetherness might become stressful and bring the Grinch out in you both. Remember, there’s a reason you’re divorced.
The other danger in this scenario may be a hidden, ulterior motive for the togetherness — a desire to get back together with the ex. You must be honest with yourself. Don’t confuse the children with any hidden agenda. Be aware how they will feel, be certain they understand this does not mean you are getting back together. It’s common for children to secretly wish for this to happen, especially during the holidays, so make sure they aren’t harboring this notion before you decide to celebrate together.
If being around the ex seems an impossible task, alternating holiday time may be the answer. That means when it’s not your year, you have to find a way to celebrate that doesn’t include your children. Do something different, unexpected, avoid letting it be a sad and terrible time for you … your kids will know and feel guilty if you are all alone. The goal is to never expect them to choose one parent over the other. They love you both.
If Santa visits your children, it’s wise to have a budget, one that both you and the ex can agree on. Coordinate who gives what so you don’t duplicate presents. Stick to the agreement, and agree where Santa will be dropping off his presents for the children. Remember, Santa has a plan too, don’t screw it up.
It’s also not the time to try and outdo each other in the gift department. The spirit of giving gets a little lost when you’re trying to buy them off. When you are shopping, keep your co-parent in mind. Not in an “I’m going to piss you off with this gift way,” but a “let’s get along for the sake of our children way.” If your children are now part of a blended family, over-the-top gifts for them at the exclusion of the others may cause anger and resentment. It’s wise for grandparents to understand this fact as well.
Finally, you may want to reconsider bringing a new significant other to the festivities, at least too soon after a divorce. It could throw off the entire family dynamics and ruin the holiday celebration. If it’s going to cause trouble, you should avoid doing it. This is a time for your children, not for showing off the new love of your life.
Keep the “ho, ho, ho” in your children’s holidays. When you see the joy on their faces, your heart will tell you that you did the right thing.
Kids With Divorced Parents And The Holidays
As hard as it is for divorced parents on the holidays, imagine what it is like for the children. What are their thoughts? What kind of advice would they give for making it an easier time for everyone? Here are a few thoughts on the subject, combined with a good dose of common sense:
- Plan ahead. Be very specific with dates and times; even go as far as writing down what is going to happen step-by-step. Kids like knowing exactly what’s happening. Yet, you must also be willing to change carefully laid plans at the last moment. Kids, especially the littlest ones, can be unpredictable. Be flexible and be patient.
- Be flexible but firm. Kids like to be included in making plans, but don’t go overboard. Listen to their ideas and consider their input, but in the end, it is your decision as the adult. Don’t let them take advantage of you because of divorce guilt.
- Respect tradition but be willing to make new ones as well. The first holiday without both parents will be the hardest for the kids. Be sure they know it‘s okay to share their feelings and that you understand. Listen, then validate … that may help ease their sadness. In general, kids don’t mind the idea of celebrating everything twice. But keep the drama out of it. If old traditions aren’t working or cause pain, create new ones — make it a fun process for the family.
- Remember, what goes on in the other household is no longer your business. No grilling the kids for information. And if the children do talk about the other parent’s home, keep the adult emotions under control. Don’t overreact; it may be a child’s version of the truth, which can be unreliable. But under-reacting is not healthy either; you need to let them know that it’s okay for them to talk about their time with the other parent. After all, they love you both.
- Pool if possible. Again, no surprises at this time of the year; leave big changes for another time. But speaking of big, it’s a great time for co-parents to consider pooling resources and going in on the bigger gifts together. Getting a gift from mom and dad shows the kids that even if you are no longer together, you will both always be their parents, united in your love for them. This is a terrific thought to reinforce in their minds and hearts.
The holidays can be stressful for everyone: work, parties, shopping, cooking, baking, planning, church, school programs, gift wrapping, family demands — the list can seem endless. Time flies, tempers flare; what should be a joyful time can become taxing and hectic. Remember, if you’re feeling this way, so is your ex and your children are getting double dose of the holiday blues. Take care of the kids first; the other 101 things can wait. Take the time to see to their needs, listen to their thoughts, and tend to their emotions. It’s not impossible for you and your children to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year, even after divorce. A whole lot of love can make a recipe of happy holidays for all.