The holidays can create mixed feelings for many people, especially children still coming to terms with their parents’ divorce. For divorcing parents, the stress of the first “new normal” holidays can be immense. Being aware of and empathetic to how their child and they may be feeling can help alleviate some anxieties and ease the whole family’s transition through this potentially difficult time.
If you find yourself in this situation as the holidays approach, the following suggestions propose some ways to help create new happy holiday memories for all:
Commit to realistic expectations. No family is perfect. Not everything is always going to be wonderful, no matter how hard parents try. If you make yourselves miserable trying to create the perfect holiday for your children, the children will know it. A better plan is to be more relaxed and have fun while acknowledging the holiday celebration may have a few rough edges.
Don’t overload the calendar. The already hectic holiday schedule becomes even more hectic when children spend time in two households and can create stress for everyone. Allow time to breathe.
Plan ahead. Work to firm-up holiday plans early so that children can anticipate where they will be when and with whom. Already dealing with uncertainty, children will benefit from the security of a planned schedule as will you.
Make new traditions. Traditions stabilize kids and help them feel secure. Because divorce inevitably brings many changes, have a conversation with your children about which rituals are most important to them; prioritizing will help guide them through the process of accepting the inevitable changes. Try to avoid getting hung up on past traditions and focus instead on creating a holiday that brings your children joy. Part of that may be developing different rituals for the holidays. For example, you might consider making the Wadsworth’s annual Festival of Trees & Traditions or Knox’s annual Hartford Harvest Market a new part of the family’s celebration.
Be Realistic. No holiday season is perfect, and this one won’t be either.
Practice Restraint in Gift-Giving. Exercising moderation in gift-giving is another way to lessen holiday stress. Make a plan up front while your children are not nearby. Avoid the temptation to give too many presents or presents that are very expensive in an attempt to compensate for any guilt you may be feeling. Instead, plan some fun activities that your children will remember – like the free ice skating and skate rentals at Winterfest in Bushnell Park or the Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer production at the Bushnell. (This year the Bushnell is even offering a sensory-friendly performance that is welcoming to all families and friends with children or adults who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensitivity issues).
Make room for sadness. Even the most committed effort to keep the holidays cheerful and pleasant cannot guarantee that your children will experience no sorrow. Letting them express their emotions in a quiet place and validate their feelings is important.
Commit to Personal Well-Being. Remember to take care of yourselves as you make the holidays enjoyable for your children. Exercise, eat well, rest, and commit to spending quality time with relatives and friends. When you do, you will be in a much better position to create a pleasant holiday environment and happy memories for you and your children.
Practice Gratitude. Think of the things in life that are still good and right: health, shelter, food, children, family, friends, pets, a job, freedom, safety, self-esteem, and new beginnings.
The attorneys at Freed Marcroft will listen to you and help you cope with the present and plan for the future during your divorce. Please contact us if you or someone you know would like more information about our family law practice.