Holidays evoke losses that go beyond a separation and divorce. We all have picture perfect images of the ideal holidays that we imagine everyone else having. Holidays trigger not only the loss of family as one may have known it, but other losses: jobs, moves, extended family, and friends.
There are key factors to consider in handling the holidays that may help you to survive and feel like you did your best:
- What can you as a parent handle? Be honest with yourself and how you feel. Be honest with your children about your limitations and what you can handle. Approach them in a way that doesn’t burden them with your feelings. Ask them what would help them during the holidays.
- Recognize that rituals are symbolic and often treasured by children and adults. If possible, try to have some of your family’s traditional rituals and include your children in creating new ones.
- Be realistic about your time, your energy and finances. What your children really want is a healthy parent who can share some holiday “cheer” with them. The thrill of gifts dissipates quickly; the memory of a special time together lasts forever.
- Consider your child’s age, personality and adjustment to the separation or divorce when planning the holiday. Many children totally dread going back and forth or may be spending their first holiday with both parents separately. Think about what is best for your child and not you and your extended family. Ask relatives to understand and plan dinners and brunches around what works for your children.
- Whether or not you share time with your child’s co parent and your child is up to you and your child’s other parent. Can you be civil to each other, can your children be relaxed and enjoy their time with the two of you? Will your child become confused seeing his parents together?
- Holidays do not have to be celebrated on the actual date! Celebrate at a later time if that works better. Make sure you communicate with your child’s other parent and work out how the holidays will be celebrated months before the actual date.
- Throw out all expectations. Expectations and assumptions (“My former partner’s family will surely invite me.”) will only hurt you. Develop realistic expectations such as celebrating a holiday with your children on a different day which makes it less stressful for them if they are going to be with their other parent.
- Create some alone time for yourself and work hard to look forward to it. Many men and women tell me that the dread being alone, especially on a holiday. A family transition can also be positive in creating new time for you. Take a walk; get in touch with yourself and what means something to you. Cherish yourself in the moment and think about how you are feeling. It is alright to have sad feelings, lonely feeling. It is alright to cry and reach out for a tissue. It is also important that you take charge and keep working on what you can do to create the life you want. We sometimes dichotomize our emotions and think we can only be happy or sad. It is alright to simultaneously feel very sad about losses you are experiencing; it is also alright to feel good about the time you created that you actually enjoyed.
By Risa Garon, LCSW-C, BCD, CFLE
Like what you read? Check out Risa’s special guest blog about the holidays on Huffington Post.