Holidays under the best of circumstances can be stressful and demand much time and energy; this can be greatly magnified when you have recently gone through a divorce or separation. Most important in this process is figuring out how to avoid, or at least minimize, hurt feelings, guilt, anger, and resentment, particularly for the children and those who had nothing to do with the demise of the relationship. Avoiding conflict is both key and at the same time most challenging when self-interest and the interest of others seem to collide.
Hopefully, visitation has been planned in advance of the holidays, but if not, don’t let it ruin your holidays by having a big argument over where the children will be. It might be less stressful to move your holiday to the day before or after, so that you can avoid the conflict. Being happy is more important than “winning” and your children should not be involved in a tug-of-war between the couple. Studies have repeatedly confirmed that children’s suffering from divorce is directly linked to the amount of conflict there exists between the parents. Kids fare much better, and thrive, when their parents can get along. If only for the sake of others, especially the children, a spirit of compromise and generosity is essential to facilitate a reasonable chance to enjoy this focal point of family time.
As hard as it is in times of change, distress, and heartache, celebrating the holidays (as best you can) is important. The fact is the holidays endure through everything. They are part of the solid ground that transcends what’s happening in our daily lives. They reassure us that there are some things that do not change and call for celebration, no matter what. Holidays are about peace, sharing, gratitude, and love. During transitions, divorce or heartache, we have to reach down and find those fundamental things at a deeper level, a more meaningful level. We can resolve to make how we spend the holidays an expression of the values that represent who we are.
Here are 10 suggested ways I have collected for giving yourself and your loved ones a better chance for having a reasonably happy holiday. I am almost certain that trying out two or three will make your holidays better.
• Make plans in advance. Discuss holiday plans and schedules in advance with your ex to prevent misunderstandings and arguments about who has the kids when.
• Give your kids a voice. Let your children have a say in the holiday plans. Consider their favorite traditions when planning.
• Start new traditions. Create new holiday traditions to share with your kids, For example, you could volunteer at a food bank or homeless shelter.
• Let others help. If you normally cook Christmas dinner for family or friends, why not suggest a potluck this year, and assign each person a dish to make.
• Remember to take care of yourself during the holidays. When you get enough rest, eat healthy food, and exercise, you will feel better and have more patience to be a loving parent.
• Reach out. This can be a hard time. Don’t hesitate to reach out to trusted friends or family members or to a mental health professional if you’re having a difficult time. Seeking help when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness.
• Don’t spend the holidays alone. Although some people would rather retreat until the holidays are over, if you are recently divorced, it’s probably not a good idea to spend the holidays alone. Accept an invitation from a friend or family member to spend Christmas with them. Visit a local church or holiday event, there will be people there who would be glad to meet you.
• Count your blessings. Most people feel much better about their lives when they take the time to sit down and think about what they have in their lives that is important to them. You will feel fortunate to have the good things in your life.
• Call on your faith. Remember the reason for the season. Take some time to nourish your spirit in whatever way works for you, whether it’s going to church services, visiting with friends, or taking a walk. Volunteer at a local charity or to wrap presents for needy children. Helping others takes your mind off your own difficulties.
• Remember you are not alone, and the holidays will pass. Take the time to simplify and enjoy the parts of your celebration that are most meaningful to you.
“Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”
Editor’s Note: Dario Lussardi is a licensed psychologist-master, providing consultation at the Community Counseling Center in Wilmington Vermont, where he maintains a private practice providing therapeutic services to adults, couples, children, adolescents, and families.