For most families, the holiday season is a joyous time of year but for others, like divorced and single parent families, it can be a really dreadful and stressful time. The holiday tradition of reminiscing tends to conjure bittersweet feelings for both parents and children of divorced families. Holiday celebrations remind them of the way things “used to be” and awakens them to the reality of a compromised celebration. The holidays will never be the same again.
For the estranged parents, the holiday season may serve as a reminder of the turmoil and chaos of divorce as they are either forced to implement their holiday visitation agreement, or to negotiate legal access to the children. Regardless of whether the agreement is amicable, stress and anxiety exists during the holiday season.
The holidays tend to magnify the pain and suffering of the divorce for both parents and children. Instead of enjoying the full holiday period with everyone, the children are forced to divide their time between the two parents they love. They may feel frustrated from having to jet back and forth between two parent’s homes in the middle of the holidays or they may feel torn as they spend a full holiday with one parent while missing the other.
On the other hand, for the children, there are advantages to a dual holiday festivity. The children get to enjoy two celebrations, to receive more gifts, and to experience two different household traditions. For parents, however, this situation can create some sources of conflict and tension.
If feelings of jealousy, resentment, anger or vengeance still exist between the two parties, the situation could become a competition to win the child’s favor creating a negative outcome for all.
In order to make the best out of the holiday season, collaborate with the other parent to alleviate conflict and stress and involve the kids in the planning to make it an enjoyable unique experience:
- Take turns on holiday celebration: Father can take the kids on the odd years and mother on the even years or agree to split the holidays with one parent spending Christmas Eve to noon with the kids and Christmas day to Boxing Day with the other parent. Whatever the agreement, stick to it.
- Create a new ritual or tradition for the kids. This will make Christmas with each parent special. A new ritual can include assigning one child to carve the turkey or opening the presents earlier in the evening rather than the usual midnight opening.
- Collaborate with your ex on holiday plans: Communicate openly with former spouse about the holiday plans and the gift buying. Divide the Christmas wish list so that you are not duplicating gifts or competing to buy the kids their top three picks.
- Involve the children with holiday planning. Incorporating the children’s decisions on your holiday plans will make them feel special and respected.
- Encourage other family members to join the festivities. This will subside potential feelings of loneliness.
- Be courteous and pleasant to the other parent. This is a time of enjoyment and celebration. Put aside the bitterness and anger.
Christmas is a time to recognize the many blessings we have. It is a time to reflect on our lives and what we need to do to achieve peace, love and happiness. If we focus on the needs of the children and set aside any differences with the former spouse, it is possible to create an enjoyable and unforgettable experience for the new family.