Divorce brings major changes into your family life, including how you choose to celebrate the holidays. Most families wind up holding onto some of their old traditions while introducing some new innovations. However you go about celebrating the holidays, intentionality is key.
If you're looking to smooth your transition at holiday time, here are steps you can take with your kids to make the season better for everybody.
Arrange for holiday visitation in advance. Address visitation in writing as part of your divorce agreement. TIP: You can always make modifications if things change over the years, but this will give you some framework for going forward. Alternating years work best for many people.
Stay in touch when your kids are away. Try to let your children have some contact with both parents. You can arrange a phone time in advance. Video calls are the next best thing to being there in person.
Create your own special occasions. Take this opportunity to double your fun. If your kids are spending this year with their other parent, make up a reason to throw your own party when they get back. You can watch cartoons and exchange gifts in honor of SpongeBob SquarePants or the invention of ice cream.
Coordinate gift giving and spending. You or your ex-spouse may feel tempted to spend too much in an effort to compensate for the disruptions in your children's lives. TIP: Try to find common ground on gift giving so you can stick to your budgets and avoid creating resentments. You may still be able to pool your funds for the big ticket items like bikes and electronics.
Radiate good cheer. Put up a positive front for your kids. Reassure them that you're in control of the situation and are making arrangements for everyone to have a good time.
Get input from your kids. Avoid burdening small children with making decisions that are beyond their capacity. Instead, engage them in conversation to get a sense of what's most important to them. Maybe they treasure the traditional holiday dinner. Or perhaps they'd be just as happy with a less formal meal.
Love your kids more than you hate your ex. Seriously, this is one of the best pieces of post-divorce I received from my good friend, Greg, who just happens to be one helluva family law attorney!
Steps That Ease Your Own Transition
Now, let's talk about you...
Budget carefully. Divorce often creates financial hardship. This can be made worse by the commercial pressures of the holiday season. Tip: Be realistic if you need to cut back - it's freaking expensive splitting households with two sets of overhead! There are lots of free and inexpensive indulgences to enjoy, like community concerts or making crafts together.
Distract yourself. You're bound to experience some intense emotions. If you start feeling blue, look for more constructive activities to divert your thoughts and engage your mind.
Downplay the holidays. If you feel more comfortable detaching from the seasonal festivities, that may be the best option for you. Go hard on the self-c are: practice yoga, read a good book, or spend some quality time with a close friend if that makes you happier than attending a big New Year's Eve bash.
Hit the road. If your family situation and finances permit, this may be a great time to travel. Fulfill a long-time wish to visit an exotic destination and get absorbed in new experiences.
Reach out for support. You may find your experiences easier to manage if you talk your feelings over with a professional counselor or friends. Spiritual traditions may also be a source of strength.
Help others. When you're feeling blue or down in the dumps, helping others is the quickest way to take your mind of your own troubles and get a perspective check. Helping others makes the holidays more rewarding and creates the best new traditions of all! Try doing some volunteer work, or just look around to see if you know people who may be spending the day alone and would love to be invited to a potluck at your home.
Take care of your body. One of the best ways to cope with holiday stress and obligations is to keep your mood and energy stable. New reports suggest that increased sugar intake (hello, holiday cookies and treats?) can trigger metabolic, inflammatory and neurobiological processes tied to depressive illness - YIKES! This, coupled with swindling daylight and post-divorce blues can really knock you for a loop! Take care of your body by making sure you're eating well (and at regular intervals) and getting in some fresh air and movement as much as possible.
Divorce and holidays can trigger strong emotions. At these times, we tend to have head-on encounters with our expectations surrounding romantic love and family bonds. Be gentle with yourself and your kids so you can welcome new traditions into your hearts and enjoy the time you share together.