No matter what stage of divorce you’re in, getting through the holidays with your kids could potentially be the toughest time of year. But it doesn’t have to be a time of sadness and despair.
It should be a time to celebrate with friends and family, but during or after a divorce you may feel anything but merry. If you’re feeling that way, your kids will feel it twice as much, unless you prepare yourself in advance and plan for the best.
So, to help you and your kids enjoy this holiday season instead of dreading it, here are 12 tips you can use today to survive your divorce and the holidays.
1. Keep your cool.
The holidays are a big deal for your kids and you obviously want to make it the best for them despite the circumstances. Keep in mind that kids are smart and can sense when you’re upset or overly stressed. So keep your emotions in check, for them. After all, there are lots of other activities during the year where you’ll interact with them and enjoy each others’ time too. So as you begin to prepare for this season, don’t let it get to you. Take off your divorce hat and put that original “Mom Hat’ back on. You’ll all enjoy the holidays a lot more, and you’ll be happy you did.
2. Include your kids in the preparation.
No matter the age, your kids will enjoy doing things with you, age appropriate of course. You have lots to do… decorate your home, wrap gifts, make special foods, include them in all of it and take extra time to enjoy each project. Let them come up with ideas too, but keep them within reason. This will help your kids feel closer to you and provides quality family time.
3. Take pictures of all your holiday activities.
Here’s where your cell phone comes in handy. If you don’t have a friend or another family member who can take pictures for you, group selfies are perfect. Get them with nice smiles and then with crazy faces or funny hats. You get the idea. After the holiday is over, print them out and make a framed photo collage and hang it where you and the kids can see it. It will be a reminder of your great holiday together and how strong your bond truly is.
4. Put your children first.
If ever there was a time to think about peace on earth and good will toward men (and women), it’s the holiday season. Yes, that applies to the ex as well. If possible, keep the important traditions going. You may have to tweak them a bit or reinvent them altogether. This is a great time to start new traditions with your children, but don’t be too quick to abandon the old ones just because it may not be the same for you. Remember, it’s about how your children feel. It’s not about you or the ex.
5. Adapt to the holiday time sharing schedule.
If your kids are with the other parent on the holiday, have your celebration on a different day, and celebrate as though the calendar didn’t matter. Rather than fretting that you don’t have the “special day,” instead make the day you do have your special day. Your children will have 2 holidays, which won’t be a negative for them.
6. Don’t grill your kids about what happened in their other parent’s home.
And if the children do talk about the other parent’s home, keep the adult emotions under control. Don’t overreact; it may be a child’s version of the truth, which can be unreliable. But under-reacting is not healthy either; you need to let them know that it’s okay for them to talk about their time with the other parent. After all, they love you both.
7. It’s not about the stuff!
Gift giving is often a big part of the holiday season. With separation and divorce, the funds available for gift giving are usually less than they were before. However, gifts don’t need to be purchased to be appreciated. Sometimes the gift of time and attention means more than any store-bought gift ever could. Home made gifts can be even better. You can also binge watch your favorite movies together. Drive around in the evening to see all the Christmas lights in the neighborhood. Cook dinner together (or treat yourself to carryout Chinese!) Focus on enjoying your time together, rather than on giving or getting more stuff.
8. Give joint holiday gifts from Mom and Dad.
Combining finances can help you get that larger ticket item. Also, getting a gift from mom and dad shows the kids that even if you are no longer together, you will both always be their parents, united in your love for them. This is a terrific thought to reinforce in their minds and hearts. Of course if you’re entrenched in WW III with the other parent this may not be possible, obviously.
9. Plan ahead.
Be very specific with dates and times; even go as far as writing down what is going to happen step-by-step. Kids like knowing exactly what’s happening. Yet, you must also be willing to change carefully laid plans at the last moment. Kids, especially the littlest ones, can be unpredictable. Be flexible and be patient.
10. Show your kids how much they really have.
As tight as things get when you’re trying to run two households on the funds that used to support one, it could be much worse. You have a roof over your head and you have food. During the holiday season, to help your kids appreciate what they have, a good activity would be for them to join you in a volunteer community service.I have been helping the local food pantry to set up their holiday food bags for Thanksgiving and Christmas for the past 10 years. One year we served a dinner in the local soup kitchen. Do something like this with your kids and watch their hearts swell and their gratitude grow.
11. Don’t spend the holidays alone.
It can be tempting to crawl into a cave and hibernate during our first holidays alone – especially if your ex has the kids. However, I urge you to resist the temptation. There’s no reason to punish yourself, for that’s what hiding in a cave during the holidays is. I’m not saying that you don’t need time alone. You very well might. I’m just suggesting that instead of spending all of the holiday season alone, make an effort to go out and spend some time with others. I promise that you’ll get a different perspective of your first holidays as a re-singled person if you open yourself up to even a little fun celebrating the holidays with others.
12. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
This is my advice in a nutshell. Remember this is not a one time audition where everything has to be perfect. This is a time for you to enjoy your children and for them to enjoy quality time with you. So no stress, do the arts and crafts, the baking, the decorating, fill the house with love and holiday spirit, and have a wonderful fun day together. If the kids arrive late, don’t let it get to you. If your ex (or soon to be ex) does something to push your buttons, ignore it. Just focus on you and the kids. If you approach the whole experience with a positive attitude, it will all fall into place, and you and the children will start a wonderful holiday tradition of your very own.
If you haven’t started your divorce, or are stuck in the middle of it, keep in mind, you don’t have to do this alone.
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