I know that the holidays can weigh heavily on families reeling from recent divorce or separation, and yet, they can also serve as an opportunity for new beginnings – and new family traditions. I recently spoke with some good friends who, after traumatic separations from their spouses, were suddenly faced with all the good tidings of the winter holidays. Feeling far from jolly, each of my friends recalled struggling to redefine what family was going to mean for the future within the deadlines of an advent calendar. And yet, they were determined to give their kids lasting memories of happiness despite the transitions in their lives. As you work towards your own new definition of family, here's some advice to consider:
Call a truce – mission possible?
Maybe one of you has moved out. Maybe you're only communicating through lawyers at this point. Whatever your situation, the first step towards planning the holidays is to ask yourself: Are you capable of spending any time together? Would it be possible for you both to lay down arms and present a united front for your kids? With absolutely no fighting of any kind, not even a single snide comment? If both of you are absolutely 100 percent sure that not a single sign of negativity will creep into your time together, make it happen. If there is even a remote chance that one of you could break down in front of your kids, it will likely be best that you continue your separation over the holidays. Decide what is right for your family, and be sure to consult a counselor if you are struggling with the decision. For one of my friends, she was able to make this happen. For the others, it was out of the question.
Create new traditions.
Especially if you and your former spouse cannot be in the same room together, it may be time to start some new holiday traditions. Get them excited about specific events, such as baking holiday treats, visiting a tree farm, or attending local light festivals. Combine any old traditions that make sense and that the kids love. Help them concentrate on the current fun activities and not on the differences in the family. They take their cues from you, so try to have a great time, no matter what else is going on. This is an excellent opportunity to redefine what family means for you and for your kids. And to have a ton of fun in the process.
Call on your family, friends, and caregiver.
But, there will be times when you can't have a great time. There will be times when you'll need to take a break. And that's okay. As the holidays get started, check in with your family, your friends, and your kids' caregiver. Let them know that you are going to need some time for yourself every once in a while, and ask them if they can take over for a while. Take some time for your own sanity. As much as you want to make the season about your children, taking care of your own needs will help ensure that they are still building happy holiday memories.
Have you ever had to juggle a divorce with the holidays? How did you get through it? What new holiday traditions did you start with your kids? Did you try to get along with your former spouse or was that just not possible? If you are struggling with divorce this season, what is the hardest part?