9 Essentials for Experiencing Happy Holidays
1. Confirm Your Plans With the Other Parent As Early as Possible
Even if you have a parenting plan detailing holiday dates and times with each parent, reconfirm the times for transitioning between parents, pick up and drop off locations, and who will be doing the pick up and drop off. Confusion bubbles over during the holidays even for the simplest of plans.
If you do not have a parenting plan detailing the holiday schedule with each parent, contact the other parent and determine how the holiday season will work for the children. Consider all holiday vacation days, pick up and drop off times and places, and who will transport. Be specific to avoid confusion. Vague, open-ended dates and times, or agreeing to “play it by ear” often leads to disagreements. Exact times and locations to exchange the children will set expectations for both parties, and allow the children to anticipate when they will see the other parent. It will give the children a sense of security and comfort knowing they will have time create holiday memories with both parents.
2. Schedule Calls or Video Chats
Agree on a specific time and who will initiate the call/chat to avoid disappointment for the parent and the children. Scheduling a time to speak with the other parent gives children an opportunity to share holiday excitement and feel connected to both sides of the family.
3. Plans Regarding Extended Family
Extended Family may also be feeling cheated out of time with the children as a result of the divorce. Including extended family in the holiday events is wonderful. But note: the picking up and dropping off at particular places and times should be left to the parents themselves. Parents are the ones bound by law, when a parenting plan has been made into a court order, or bound by agreement, for adhering to the details. The holidays create a sense of high stakes even for extended family who are relying on children being at certain places at certain times. Both parents and the children will experience discomfort and stress if agreements are not met by well-meaning extended family who are oblivious to the difficulties in co-parenting or see the days as “just the holidays.”
4. Determine What is Most Important before Solidifying Holiday Plans.
The most generous gift parents can give their children during the holidays is a continued sense of security and stability. Keeping the child’s best interest in mind when planning the holiday schedule is an excellent priority for both parents to have.
Support your children in voicing what their favorite things about the holiday are and about what is most important to them over the holidays and during their break from school. Consider for yourself what means the most to you about the holidays. Consider what is most important to the other parent and determine whether your good-will in this regard will be to everyone’s benefit at some time, now or in the future. If certain aspects of the holidays are not affordable this year, such as skiing in Telluride, develop plans for lower budget fun family events.
5. Remember that Children take Signals for Interpreting Events from You
You may feel angry about the divorce and events surrounding it or guilty or upset about the way the time is arranged for you to spend the holidays, or depressed about the time during which you are separated from the children. At the same time, you know that you do have much to be grateful for. Choose to set your mind to thinking and feeling gratitude about the things you do have, good health, time together with family and friends, or days away from work and school. Children intuit your sense of everything being OK and that you are grateful for your time together and will feel more relaxed and grateful for what they have as well when they pick up on these messages from you. Children learn the importance that having experiences together can hold.
Beware. Feeling overcome by a sense of loneliness, or feeling undervalued as a parent, can result in communicating with your children in a way that places blame. Try to become aware of subconscious or non-verbal messages you are sending that make children feel guilty. Without thinking and out of our own pain you may make negative comments to children to cause them to feel guilty about not being with you. Remember how little control your children have to make family decisions.
6. Create New Holiday Traditions
Traditions give us comfort and help us to heal. Creating new traditions is a great way to bond with children. Plan together for a party, tree decorating, baking, or religious service. Allow for each child to take ownership and feel a part of the creation of new events and rituals. Be a guide and team leader as you participate and enjoy as the magic unfolds.
7. Avoid Expensive Activities
Creating two households amidst the expense of divorce often leaves families with fewer financial resources. Amidst this basic fact, we are bombarded with messages that suggest a good life and being a good parent means holidays filled with expensive electronics, lavish parties, and whirlwind vacations. Focusing on what you are unable to afford causes stress, depression, and anxiety. What is the real key to your happiness at the holidays? Consider focusing on friendship, helping those less fortunate, homemade gifts, and gifts of experiences together. These can be your keys to feeling rewarded during the holiday season.
8. Take Care of Your Own Sweet Self While Caring for Your Children
Prepare yourself for the fact that the holiday season during divorce can be particularly stressful. Allow yourself to be absorbed in activities that you find personally fulfilling while your children are with their other parent. Reflect on meeting your own needs and finding friends and activities that bring joy into your life.
Social support networks are important to good health and well-being. Short periods when the kids are away can be a welcome respite for over scheduled single parents, but longer intervals between seeing the children during the holiday season can feel lonely. This is a time when friends may be busy with their own family gatherings. The emotional climate of one’s family of origin can provide support or, on the other side, evoke anxiety and emotional reactivity.
If your family of origin is not supportive of you, it is especially important to find support in friends who you think of as family. Women often naturally look to each other as support partners. Geographic proximity is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for support. Support can be provided across great distances with modern communication. Seeking out a counselor or divorce coach who can also provide advice and new resources for creating alternative holiday traditions can make a big difference.
9. Know that You are Working Your Way Through This Time Toward a Better Day
Feeling a deep ache in your chest or in the pit of your stomach because of all that has transpired during the last year is common, especially during the holidays. When the ache arises, try taking some deep breathing breaks. Inhale deeply as you imagine light flowing through you. Reach out to friends for support. Have faith that things will be getting better over time and that you are growing stronger everyday.
Don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can be of help.