Navigating the holidays post-divorce is a difficult enough task for adults, but it also brings out stress and anxiety in children, whether small or big (adult). We tackled holiday survival post-divorce topics like “finding your new normal” and “creating emotional balance” here and here, now we will discuss guiding your children through the holidays. This is especially important if it is your first round of holidays since your separation or divorce.
One of the most important aspects to remember is to be transparent about how the holidays will go. Set up a detailed schedule in your parenting plan early on with your ex. Having a plan in place and communicating those plans with your child(ren) will help ease some of their stress, even if it’s as simple as knowing that yes, both mom and dad will be at their holiday concert at school, or that mom will take the kids to see Santa. Whether your child is 2 or 20 it is important to maintain a holiday schedule and stick to it. Unfortunately it does require both parents to be willing to negotiate, and ultimately give up time, but developing a fair plan with your child’s best interest in mind will be better in the long run.
Talk to your children about your traditions. Discuss with them what will remain the same, what traditions they will continue to celebrate and at who’s home, etc. Don’t be afraid to create new traditions. Many families will try to keep things as normal as possible, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a good time to start something new. Again, this holds true of children at any age, and talking about it early in the season will help them to know what to expect throughout the holiday season.
Communication is key, even if it’s something that as an adult you wouldn’t think twice about, often times children do not have any idea what to expect for their first holidays post-divorce. For example, a young child has no concept of Santa knowing that they moved, or if Santa still comes if they are at dad’s house on Christmas and not at mom’s. Talk them through these scenarios.
Establish realistic holiday expectations with your ex early on. How will you navigate gift giving with finances split? Especially on those big ticket items. Do gifts and toys get to travel from one house to the other? Etc. How will you avoid what becomes a “bidding war” of presents to “buy/show” your love? – This unfortunately happens often, and ultimately the child is negatively affected when years of this behavior occurs.
The holidays are overwhelming for all of us – young and old, so don’t be afraid to ditch the lines at the mall, or the umpteenth extended family gathering, and trade for a quiet night at home with just you and the kids.