The holidays are a special time for most of us. It can be a season filled with family, friends, relaxation, and reflection.
While the holidays can still be cheerful and fun, this time of year is often difficult for parents and children who are dealing with divorce. Fortunately, with proper communication and planning, divorced parents can still make the holidays a happy time for their children and can make positive memories for them.
Here are three tips to help you reduce stress and improve the holiday experience when a divorce affects your family.
The first step to ensure your children have a happy holiday season following a divorce is to communicate with your ex-spouse well in advance. You both undoubtedly have plans, and expectations from other relatives are often very high. The holiday season is usually hectic and full of activities that can be overwhelming for even a married couple, so it is natural that the demands on a two-household family will be doubled.
By discussing plans far in advance and compromising (when necessary) for the sake of the children, you can reduce the amount of stress on yourself and your children during this busy time of year. It is a good idea to start discussing your holiday plans with your ex-spouse in late October or early November so the children will be able to anticipate where they will be and with whom during the holidays. While it is a good idea to let teens and older children weigh in on the planning process, the final decisions should be made by you and your ex-spouse.
Keep in mind that it is perfectly fine to lower expectations with your family members and allow the children time to enjoy the events that you can schedule. The children do not have to visit every family member in one day, so be sure to plan appropriately to avoid overwhelming them during this busy season.
While some divorced parents may decide to spend the holidays together to maximize the time with their children, it may not be possible – or advisable – in every situation. Instead, many divorced parents agree to split time over the holidays to allow each parent to celebrate with their kids separately. Christmas, for example, might be divided up into Christmas Eve spent with one parent and Christmas Day spent with the other. If both parents live nearby, this type of arrangement is often ideal, but is not always possible if extensive travel is required. If you and your spouse do not live in the same area, a different holiday arrangement should be outlined well in advance.
Traditions, especially during the holidays, are precious to children. They are often a stabilizing factor for children who are dealing with their parents’ recent divorce. Preserving the traditions that your children have come to count on is paramount. If you and your kids have a particular routine or tradition that they have become accustomed to, it is a good idea to preserve those traditions as best as possible to maintain stability in your children’s lives.
While established traditions can be a stabilizing factor for your kids, making new traditions can be a positive step forward for families in a transition period. Children can begin to make solid, happy memories with a new step-parent by establishing new traditions, like building gingerbread houses, hanging new ornaments, or picking out a Christmas tree. These positive activities can become yearly traditions your children look forward to.
If you are not able to be physically present with your children during the holidays, use technology like Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, or pre-recorded videos or audio recordings to connect with your children. While distance can be tough during the holiday season, there are more ways than ever to communicate with the ones you love today, even if you are in another city or state.
While the holidays are a time of generosity and indulgence, parents should exercise restraint and resist the urge to splurge on overly extravagant gifts. While it is natural to want to make your children happy during the holidays, too expensive or an overwhelming number of gifts could have a detrimental effect.
The holidays should not be “weaponized” as a chance to make yourself look good while making your ex-spouse look bad to the kids. Divorced parents should discuss gift-giving in advance and should split the child’s wish list. Often, a single, thoughtful gift from each parent can show the children that their parents love and care for them equally, without creating a financially and emotionally costly power struggle.
For divorced parents, the emotional, financial, and physical demands of the holidays can be overwhelming. During this time, remember to set aside moments for yourself and try to reflect on the positive things in your life. Remember to enjoy the time you get to spend with your children, parents, and other family members and friends.
It is also wise to take care of your health during this season of overindulgence. When you are under significant amounts of stress, it is important not to neglect your health by overeating or consuming too much alcohol.
Ultimately, it is understandable if disputes over custody of the children during the holidays, visitation schedules, gift-giving, and other sticky issues cause some strife for you and your children. The holidays can be a difficult time for families dealing with divorce, and it may not be possible for you to completely shield your children from any emotional discomfort during this time of transition. Let your children express their feelings, validate their emotions, and work on making the time you spend with them a happy and emotionally uplifting time.
Our team of compassionate divorce attorneys knows how difficult dealing with a divorce can be. We understand the additional pressures you may face during the holiday season. We are here to help you with visitation or custody issues or any other family law issue you may be facing during the holidays or anytime throughout the year.
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