The holiday season is considered to be a time of happiness, good times, family gatherings and wonderful memories. However, the thought of the holiday season can also be a painful and stressful time for families that may be going through a divorce and many parents feel depressed, angry and anxious. The good news is that the holidays don’t have to be a time of despair.
There are four major rules of thumb for handling the holidays season through or after divorce: Take care of yourself; take care of your kids; reduce stress and reduce conflict.
Rule of Thumb #1: Take Care of Yourself:
Take Care of Your Health and Emotional Well-Being
Get enough rest and eat healthy. Enroll in an exercise class, get a massage or volunteer. Participate in anything that will keep your mind off your stresses. If you feel depressed or overwhelmed, find a great therapist and make it a priority.
Make Sure You Have a Support System:
Your family and friends can provide you with companionship during times of loneliness, a sense of understanding and a shoulder to cry on.
Focus on What Really Matters to You
Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to please anyone, including your kids. It’s ok to refuse putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. You don’t have to go to events that make you uncomfortable, and certainly you do not want to overburden yourself. You have enough on your plate, and what really matters is making sure that both you and your kids transition well and enjoy the holidays season. The rest of the world can wait, they don’t matter as much right now.
Rule of Thumb #2:Take Care of Your Kids:
Be Emotionally Available:
Be on the watch to notice and handle reactions of the kids as the holidays approach. Be available to listen and support. Have the children brainstorm different traditions that they would like the family to begin practicing. Engaging them will allow them a sense of ownership, belonging and control over the situation.
Establish New Family Traditions:
Family traditions do not have to be abandoned because the family has changed. If repeating previously practiced traditions are too painful for the family, create new ones that the family will be more comfortable with following.
Make Your Kids Your Priority:
If other family members are stressing you out, do not be afraid to say- ‘ We are all transitioning now, and I need to be focusing on my kids’. You do not have to go to every event and the rest of the world can wait.
Rule of Thumb #3:Avoid Conflict:
Stick to “to the point” and positive communications: Positive interaction between parents is critical for all of you during these challenging times. stick to productive “to the point” communications. Any conflict will add to your stress and to your kids’ stress during the holidays- for the most part, it is not worth it. If there is a “glitch” (kids did not get to you on time, kids didn’t have something they needed with them etc.) avoid blaming and past talk- use proactive language, address it briefly in a constructive manner, and move forward.
Rule of Thumb #4: Reduce Stress
You do not have to spend your first holiday apart together for the kid. Lots of parents facing their first holiday after a separation or divorce wonder if they should spend special holiday events together for their children. While it’s great when both parents can participate in special occasions, do it only if it is going to be a comfortable environment for all of you. No child wants a stressful Christmas morning or Hanukkah candle lighting with two stressed out parents. If you suspect that may happen, it is perfectly fine and oftentimes much better to celebrate separately.
Nothing Has to be Perfect, It Just Has to be Sane
If you are feeling overwhelmed, cut down on events and on anything that is not completely necessary. Forget perfect. Think sane. Other people will understand. And if not, then so be it.
Although celebrating the holidays in a completely new way is difficult — keep a positive approach. You are all transitioning. You may have lost one thing, but new and exciting things may be waiting around the corner for you. Think in terms of growth and positive change. If you feel depressed — find a good therapist that will help you transition and grow through this.
Visualize yourself and your children having a wonderful, stress-free holiday — no matter how you spend it. Center your thoughts and actions around that visualization, and let this visualized goal guide all of your actions.
Good luck and happy holidays