Keeping the Holidays Happy Despite Divorce
For the most part, the holidays are a wonderful time filled with excitement and happiness. For a family going through a separation or divorce this may not be the case. It isn’t impossible for the holidays to be a happy and joyous time for your family (and most importantly, your children) – it may just take some work.
Here are things you can do to help make this holiday season a happy one for your children:
- Emphasize the positive aspects of the season. DON’T focus on all of the things you are NOT doing or all of the past traditions you are NOT following. Focus on the positive things that the holiday season brings – celebrations, cookie making, gift giving etc…. Make sure that your children remember what the season is all about and how magical it can be.
- DON’T mention the divorce or the fact that you aren’t all celebrating together. Trust me, your children are well aware of the fact that things have changed and that you are no longer celebrating the holidays all together. They do not need you to remind them of this fact.
- DON’T remind them that you will be alone and will be missing them when they aren’t with you. The reality is that when families separate, one parent (or both parents) WILL be without the children for a period of time during the holidays. Some families divide each day so that both parents get to see the children on Christmas Day. Other families alternate having the children with each parent on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In some situations parents (or Courts) decide that one parent will have the whole holiday with the children and the other parent will have the children for the holiday the following year. Whichever scenario it is, there will be some time that you will be spending without your children. Your children do not need to hear how lonely you are when they are with the other parent – this will only make them sad and probably put a real damper on their holiday. You wouldn’t want the other parent telling your child this before you are about to spend the holidays with a child that is sad and thinking of the other parent being alone when that child is spending the holiday with you – so why would you want to put your child in that situation?
- Create new traditions. Your past family traditions had to start somewhere – now is the time to create new traditions. These new traditions will give your children something to look forward to.
- Involve your children in the decision making. When you are creating new traditions reach out to your kids and see what they want. What do they enjoy most about Christmas and the holidays? What would they like to do every year? Allowing them to have a say serves multiple purposes: (1) it helps to make sure that the activities you choose are things the children will enjoy and most importantly (2) it allows your children to have some control and feel like they have a voice.
In most families going through a separation or divorce, the children feel helpless, like they have no control over what is going on in their lives and that they have no say. Giving your children even the smallest amount of say in the decision making process gives them some control.
This can also be true for time you spend with your children in general – not just during the holidays. I always tell my clients that if you were still an intact family would you expect your kids to stay with you every moment of every weekend and never see their friends (have sleepovers, go to parties, football games etc…)? Odds are the answer is “of course not.” Well why would we expect our children (especially teenagers) to want to do this just because the family is no longer together?
- Make each moment that you spend with your children count! Instead of focusing on the time you won’t be with them – focus on the time you do have. Be present in the moment and show your children how much you are enjoying your time with them. Use the time to build memories and let your children know that you love them. DO NOT use that time to rehash the issues of the divorce, how awful the other parent is, or how hard it is for you to be away from them.
How you communicate with the children during this time and how you and the other parent handle the divorce will have a huge effect on how your children see romantic relationships and may impact how they feel about marriage. No matter how bad things may seem and how many hard feelings you may have – you need to LOVE your children MORE than you hate the other parent.