Holidays can be very stressful as well as fun, and being divorced adds a whole different dimention.
Being divorced can add extra stress to holidays, but some mindful planning can make it a bit easier. Having a positive attitude and realistic expectations always helps.
There are no guarantees in life, and change is the only thing we can be sure of. That may not feel very secure, but if we can embrace those concepts, it does make things easier. Everything changes all the time and there are generally good things that come from every change, even if we don’t recognize them immediately.
I’ve heard people lament that the holidays won’t be the same without their ex, and that the kids will suffer. And when I ask more specifically about their past experiences, often I hear about the tension and arguing that occured at the last holiday together (and others before that). “Oh yeah…” I hear. “I forgot”. What this tells me is that holidays are cherished and fantasies are built around the occassions. The stores decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving and everyone is supposed to be filled with cheer. The expectations are created to have fun and the stresses of getting people together and dealing with famiy issues are minimized or ignored.
Children take cues from their parents.The parents’ attitudes and how they feel about the time they spend with and without their children make an enormous impact. If a mom tells her kids that she will be so sad not to be with them on Christmas Eve when they’ll be at their dad’s house, they will feel badly. Maybe they’ll feel guilty or responsible for mom and feel guilty if they are having fun at dad’s. This is not fair to the children. It is true that mom will miss them. But she can also say, “I’ll miss you on Christmas Eve but I know you’ll have fun with dad and I look forward to being with you on Christmas Day.” This will free them to have fun with both parents. Children who live with both parents after a divorce often have the benefits of celebrating Christmas with with each of them and receive double gifts. That’s not so bad!
Kids who have a bi-nuclear family, who live with each parent separately, often celebrate holidays more than once. They may have two Thaksgiving dinners, two Christmas or Chanukah dinners, and have the opportunity to spend time with more people, who hopefully are happier and can provide a positive experience. Some children are lucky to be able to go on two vacations when they have school breaks and have two summer vacations. Each part of the family generally establishes traditions with their kids that they can grow up with and enjoy. Oftentimes, children spend time with different family memebers and if their parents re-couple there is often a new family to include. This can be complicated, but there can never be too many loving grandparents to dote on kids! And for the parents, after the initial shock of being alone, they generally develop their own lives and can enjoy some holiday time alone or with a new partner. This is not a bad thing either.
Time heals and new traditions can be established that create family bonds. This is important to remember in the beginning of the process when feelings are raw and it seems like it will never be ok. The research tells us that children from divorced homes who maintain good relationships with each of thier parents , and whose parents are able to minimize conflict between them, are indistinguishable in terms of their mental health from children from intact families. So… the job co-parents have is to work on a positive co-parenting relationship and move on.