One of the toughest times of year for family members following divorce is the holiday season. For the recently divorced parent, the holidays after divorce can be an emotional, stressful, and perhaps a lonely time of year – especially if they don’t have new traditions and support systems in place.
It’s no secret that the holidays can be highly stressful for divorced families. However, this stress is readily compounded because we are dealing with the seemingly never-ending age of COVID-19 and many families are experiencing an all-new and ever-changing set of challenges.
Beyond obvious health concerns, the happiness and emotional security of divorced families are threatened by countless unknowns that were not a part of daily life prior to the pandemic. These challenges include living and working in small spaces, distance learning, and financial concerns. Further, many divorced parents find themselves co-parenting with someone who may have different views about how to manage the stresses of school and safety concerns for kids who return to school or stay at home.
The silver lining to the pandemic for some divorced families is that they have more time at home to establish new traditions. For instance, one of my clients, Jessica told me that her daughter, Kendra, age 12, requested that they put a Christmas Tree up on Thanksgiving weekend rather than the week later so they could enjoy decorating it and appreciate the lights and traditions of the holiday season.
Tips on How to Enjoy the Holidays After Divorce During COVID-19
Try to Understand and Empathize with Your Children
For children of divorce, the holiday season can remind them that their family is now divided and can elicit loyalty conflicts. They may feel that they are pulled in every direction and will ultimately disappoint both of their parents. Children may worry that they won’t get their needs met and they can benefit from new traditions and activities to replace the memories of holidays in the past. Young children may be particularly vulnerable during the holiday season post-divorce because they crave and thrive with predictability and routine – which go out the window this time of year.
First and foremost, you need to do everything in your power not to intensify your children’s loyalty conflicts during the holiday season. It’s wise to be flexible and understanding as you negotiate schedules – your children may feel torn between their parents’ two disparate worlds. Show compassion for your kids if they seem stressed or worried. Remind them that it’s normal to feel more stress this time of year and you will help them to navigate through rocky patches any way you can.
What can you do to create new, positive holiday memories when you are co-parenting? In my opinion, the first step is awareness that this is a stressful time of year and that your main goal needs to be let go of past grudges and bad memories so that you can create wonderful new ones. Holding onto angry feelings toward your former spouse can make you bitter. Remember that your goal is to create new, positive holiday memories for your children that will stay with them for years to come.
Modeling responsible behavior toward your former spouse is key to having a successful holiday. Children pick up on both verbal and non-verbal signs of anger so do your best to keep these feelings in check. Never bad mouth your ex and model respectful communication in front of your children. Studies show that children adjust better to divorce if their parents minimize conflict and are more cooperative.
7 Ways to Create Positive New Holiday Memories:
- Focus on spending quality time with your kids this holiday season (and always). Remember that spending time with your kids doing enjoyable activities is the best part of this busy season. Listen to them and plan to participate in some of the activities that they will want to engage in.
- Remember that your children are not possessions and that they have their own tender feelings to deal with during the holiday season. Do your best not to put them in the middle by making them a messenger between their parents or asking them too many questions about their time with their other parent.
- Validate your children’s feelings if they express sadness or other negative emotions. Let them know that it’s okay to feel this way and you are there for them. Don’t make them feel guilty about their time away from you – they don’t need to know if you feel lonely without them.
- Model Responsible Behavior with Your Ex: According to Rosalind Sedacca, “Studies show that children whose divorced parents get along with one another have an easier time adapting to divorce. So, talk to your ex about how you can cooperate in giving your kids a happy holiday season. If you can both spend some family time together with the children, without discord, they will appreciate your efforts. If you can’t, at least make the drop-off transitions peaceful and harmonious.”
- Never bad-mouth your ex to the children or make kids your messenger or have them spy for you at their other parent’s home. Model civil and respectful behavior with your ex around your children so they can enjoy being a kid, especially during the holidays.
- Begin new holiday traditions that will create positive memories for you and your children. For instance, playing games, watching holiday movies, baking Christmas cookies, listening to holiday music, or enjoying a special meal prepared by all of you. Hold onto traditions and activities from the past that worked for you and your kids.
- Remember to laugh and relax with your children. Laughter is one of the best ways to change a negative mood to a positive one. Take time out of every day to de-stress by doing things that you all enjoy – listen to music, work on a puzzle, or participate in other fun activities.
Holidays after divorce aren’t easy, but creating new holiday memories is well worth the effort. You and your children can build new traditions and memories of the holidays that will endure the test of time and nourish everyone. The holiday season doesn’t have to be a time of stress overload. Don’t forget to hug your children and remember to keep the focus on what is most important – sustaining a positive relationship with your children.