No matter your family dynamic, whether you’re married, divorced, or a blended family, the holidays can be stressful for parents. Unfortunately, the hustle and bustle of the American lifestyle has a way of transitioning a time where we should be slowing down, spending extra quality time with our family and meditating on the things we’re most grateful for into a season filled with obligatory and endless to-do lists, financial stress and family feuds. Throw in a recent divorce or a newly acquired blended family, and the tension associated with Holidays may have you hoping the time will pass quickly and the season will come to an end sooner rather than later.
While it’s certainly not uncommon to feel this way, the important thing to remember is that how we define and spend our days during the holiday season is very much a choice and adjustable. If you’re struggling with the challenge of redefining your holiday expectations because of divorce or a new blended family, there are things you can do to help restore the holiday cheer for you and your children—some of these are practical steps, and some of them require fostering a new and healthy perspective that will benefit the entire family. Here are some ideas that can help manage holiday stress:
Over-Communicate with your Ex Leading up to the Holidays
Perhaps one of the absolute best things you could do for yourself and your children is to over-communicate and plan with your ex a few months prior to the holidays. If you’re divorced, you’ll most likely already have a parenting plan in place to give general guidelines of who has the kids on which Holiday, but really discussing the details of what the day should look like is important in reducing stress.
In addition to this, Thanksgiving and Christmas are single days—it’s often the surrounding days that really encompass the holiday cheer. If you have activities planned with your children that are important to you (i.e. going to a pumpkin patch, taking Santa photos, having a ginger-bread house competition), make sure you run those by your ex and get them on the calendar in advance. And remember, be selfless with these activities—it’s important for your ex to also have these memories with your children. If he/she takes the kids to a pumpkin patch before you get the chance, don’t let it threaten or agitate you. Either let it go or take your kids a second time—double the fun!
Let Holidays be Defined by Time Together Instead of a Specific Date
A mindset that can help with the stressful planning and time-share of children during the holidays is the belief that the true value of a holiday lies in time spent together as a family rather than any specific date. If you can learn to let go of the thinking that Thanksgiving or Christmas and what they mean to you (whether it’s teaching your children about religious beliefs or participating in family traditions) have to be celebrated on a single day, the pressure to split time and rush throughout the day can be lifted in a lot of ways. If you have the confidence that your holiday celebration with your family will be just as special whether it’s celebrated on December 25th or even a week later, you’ll probably find yourself feeling less pressure to perform and rush, and may have reduced tension with your ex.
Allow Your Children to Miss Your Ex
If you have a blended family, there will inevitably be moments when your children miss their absent parent during your holiday celebrations—if you see this happening, don’t be offended, and never make them feel guilty for how they feel. It’s all a part of processing your divorce, and them missing your ex is in no way a reflection of how they feel about you as a parent. Be sensitive to their loss and give them a little TLC during these moments—it will get better in time.
Technology can be a great tool in these moments. If you have the kids all day on a holiday, allowing them to Skype with your ex and express their excitements from the day is an excellent way for them to feel that they’ve shared in the holiday with both parents, while also conveying the message to them that you support their relationship with your ex. As hard as this may be at times, it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to your kids.
Maintain Those Holiday Traditions!
Just because you’re suddenly dealing with a parenting plan during the holidays doesn’t mean you should give up on traditions. While it may be a bit more challenging, and you may have to improvise in some ways, traditions absolutely can still carry on. Being willing to be flexible and selfless is key—if you have a long-standing tradition of making cookies with your children for Santa on Christmas Eve but they’re with your ex, you can still make the cookies and send a photo to your children with a fun message. Even if they weren’t with you, seeing that YOU are resuming the tradition can keep the magic alive in their eyes until the next year. Remember that timing and doing things exactly the same every year is not where the enchantment of traditions come from for your children—more often than not, it’s your attitude and excitement that they draw their energy from.
Navigating the holidays with a split-family is without a doubt a difficult trial, but it doesn't mean you can't still have Holiday cheer. Utilize these tips to help maintain anxiety or stress, and create priceless memories with your children this holiday season.