The first holiday season after a separation can evoke a variety of emotions for both you and your children. Steeped as they are in memories and traditions, the holidays are likely to stir up feelings of fear, stress, and potentially even sadness. The following tips offer guidance for you and your children to prepare for and cope with these emotions as you enter your first holiday season as a separated/divorced family.
First, acknowledge that this year will be different. Memories of seasons past are bound to arise. Show your children that it’s okay to reminisce about the past, by doing so yourself in a positive way.
In addition, recognize that this may be the first time your children are spending a major holiday, or part of a major holiday, away from the other parent. Depending on how long you’ve been married, it has likely been many years since you’ve spent a holiday alone. Know that it’s okay to feel sad and perhaps even angry, and let your kids know this too. Then reassure them (and yourself!) that although this season will be different, it can still be enjoyable.
Have a plan. Knowing in advance how you and your ex-spouse are going to divide the time with your children – and sharing that plan – gives everyone time to adjust to the “new normal.” It may also be a good idea to share that plan with extended family.
Most people spell out holiday arrangements in their separation agreement. Typically, parents handle the holidays in one of two ways: either by alternating years (where Dad has odd years and Mom has even years, or vice versa), or parents share the actual holiday itself. For example, one parent might have the children on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, and the other parent would then have the children from Christmas afternoon through December 27th. The latter schedule usually alternates every other year as well.
When deciding how to share the holidays with your co-parent, keep the best interests of your children in mind. If carving up the holiday is too disruptive for the kids, perhaps it’s best to celebrate with them on another day. After all, the date on the calendar matters less than ensuring you celebrate the holiday with your loved ones.
Talk with your ex about gifts for your children. In addition to lessening the chances for duplicate gifts, talking with your ex about holiday gifts will hopefully prevent disappointment, or on the other end of the spectrum, overindulgence. You should also consider helping your children select a gift for the other parent. This gesture will help show your children the true meaning of the season and let them know it is ok for them to celebrate the holiday with both of their parents.
Preserve traditions. If your children always attend Thanksgiving dinner at their paternal grandparents’ house, it’s probably best to let them continue that tradition. In addition, particularly if your children are young, you might consider having Santa Claus visit both homes.
Know how you’ll spend your alone time. When your children are with their other parent, consider spending time with friends and family. Visit relatives or host a brunch for friends, or use your time before the children arrive productively, decorating the house, preparing meals, and getting gifts ready.
If this is your first Thanksgiving alone, you might opt to shop the Black Friday sales, or start pulling out your Christmas/Hanukkah decorations. Signing up to deliver holiday meals to seniors can be a great way to spend your time with someone who is also spending the holiday alone. Finally, you may wish to use your time for self-care: take a bath, read a book, or watch a favorite movie.
Whatever you do, have something to do. Planning ahead will help ensure that you don’t leave yourself in a position where you’re walking around your house aimlessly missing your children.
Finally, create new traditions. Divorce is a new chapter in your life. While preserving the traditions of earlier years, it’s also an opportunity to fill the season with new traditions. Whatever those traditions may be, allow them to capture the true essences of the holiday season: gratitude, hope, and joy.