Whether your family celebrates Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chanukah, or the winter solstice, getting through the holidays during a divorce is tough.
Everything’s different than in years past, and the pressure to exude joy can be overwhelming.
These nine tips will help you navigate the change and create a more peaceful holiday season for you and your kids.
Focus on your children’s best interests
Unless there’s a situation of abuse, it’s generally best for children to see both of their parents during the holidays. If it’s possible, arrange for your child to spend some time with you and some time with your spouse.
If they’re used to seeing both sets of grandparents, try to incorporate those visits into their holiday as well.
No matter how difficult the experience is, try to keep the conflict away from your children. Don’t argue with or bad-mouth your spouse in front of them.
Bottling up all your feelings doesn’t help anyone. Your kids aren’t the right people to share them with, so find other outlets.
Talk with a trusted friend, a therapist, or a clergy member. Join a group for divorcing and recently divorced spouses. Ask someone to be on call — if you need to rant for 10 minutes, you know they’ll drop everything and answer the phone.
Create a clear plan
Especially if this is your first holiday going through divorce or post-divorce, don’t decide to just wing it. That’s a recipe for misunderstandings and hurt feelings — yours, your spouse’s, or your kid’s.
Decide all the details in advance. If your children are old enough, ask them their preferences. Let them know that you may not be able to meet all their requests, but you’ll take them into consideration.
If you discuss the plan with your ex in person or over the phone, send an email afterwards with all the details to confirm that you’re on the same page. When will your child be with you? When will they be with your ex-spouse? Who’ll be picking up and from where? What time?
Making sure all the details are solid reduces the chance of on-the-spot conflict that can lead to high emotions and arguing.
Communicate expectations to your children
Once you’ve created a plan with your spouse, lay it out for your kids. Don’t try to pretend this holiday will be the same as years past or that they shouldn’t be sad about the changes.
If the holidays are busy, it might help to put a schedule on the refrigerator so your kids know exactly where they’ll be and when.
Be clear that you and their other parent have agreed to this plan. Remind them how excited you both are to share time with them.
Remain positive with your children
No doubt you are having a lot of feelings about this holiday. That’s completely normal.
And this is not the time to broadcast your guilt, anger, or grief to your children. Use your support network to process feelings when you need a release.
Allow your kids to feel their own anger or sadness while modeling to them that this change is manageable. Your family will go on.
Invite supportive friends and family
If you’re able, invite friends and family to join in your celebration. They can create a celebratory atmosphere and distract from the changes that have taken place.
But a word of caution: only include friends and family that can remain positive and supportive with your children.
If your mom can’t go 20 minutes without bad-mouthing your ex, she may not be a good fit for your holiday activities this year.
Get creative about new traditions
You don’t need to throw old traditions out the window. Many may still bring you and your kids plenty of joy. But if there are traditions that create sadness (or if you’re simply looking for something to make this year’s celebration feel special), think outside the box. And encourage your children to help you come up with new traditions.
If watching a particular movie was something they always did with their dad, let them do that with him. Maybe with you, they’d love to create their own festival of lights and decorate the whole living room with twinkle lights. Or have a gingerbread house competition.
And if this year’s traditions are super low-key, that’s okay too.
Be gentle with yourself
Now might not be the time to look through copies of all your old Christmas cards. Prepare yourself for sadness and grief — both yours and your kids — and don’t push too hard. This will not be the best holiday ever.
This is the year to give yourself a break. If sending cards or baking cookies or going to neighborhood parties feels like too much, let yourself say no.
Find the moments of joy. You always hated your ex’s work holiday party? Congratulations! You don’t have to go!
If you’ll be away from your kids for part of the season, consider planning a fun activity for yourself.
If it’s at all possible, talk to your ex (or soon-to-be ex) about the gifts you’ll give your children. Gifts can create a huge amount of stress for kids of divorce and can put them in the middle of parent drama.
Here are a few tips for divorced family gift giving:
- If your child wants one big thing, talk to your ex about whether you can split the cost. If only one parent can give the gift, accept and encourage your child’s excitement if that parent isn’t you.
- If you both end up giving your child the same gift, don’t make a big deal about it. That makes your child feel bad. Emphasize that they have two loving parents. Then encourage them to get excited about returning your gift and finding something else they’ll enjoy.
- Don’t give your child a gift and tell them they can only use or play with it at their house. The kid gets to decide where the gift lives. If you can’t handle the item living at their other house, don’t give it to them.
- Make an agreement with your spouse that you won’t try to compete with each other through gifts. That’s not what gift giving or the holidays are about.
At Porchlight, we know that divorce can be hard. We also know that it’s the beginning to a great new chapter for so many people and their families. You’ve got this.
And if you’re beginning a divorce during the holidays, we’ve got you. Schedule a legal clarity session so you can get back to your celebrations.