Parenting Post Divorce: A Brief Guide to Surviving the Holidays

by: dr. laura richter
posted: friday, december 11, 2015

In a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 44 percent of the women and 31 percent of the men surveyed reported a heightened sense of stress during the holiday season. So, welcome to the season of joy! Even in the best situations, dealing with the excitement and expectations for peace and happiness can sometimes feel overwhelming. Despite what you see in the media, Christmas is not always a Hallmark moment. But when a recent divorce is added to the mix, Christmas takes on a completely different meaning. The challenge of sharing time with the children enjoying the holiday gets split between you and your ex. And this can leave you feeling apprehensive, anxious and sad.

During these times, it's important to keep your eye on the ball and focus on what is most important ... you ... your children and the new meaningful traditions and memories that you are going to create as a family. Your time together can be an opportunity to create new meaningful ways of celebrating Christmas. What is most important is just being present for one another.

Keep the old ... bring on the new.   If you are on good terms with your ex, share the holiday together ... for the sake of the kids. Try to keep the family traditions before the divorce as intact as possible. If you're not able to join together in celebration (and many are not), that's okay, too. But if that is the case, let your children know well in advance what the plans for holiday time-sharing will be. "I don't knows" and "we'll sees" creates a lot of anxiety in children.

Never let 'em see you sweat!   If you are the parent that is flying solo this year, be aware that your children are probably very attuned to your feelings. Keep in mind that it's just as difficult for them to transition from one family unit to two; and they need your support in that. Acknowledge any fears they may have; and even though you may not feel it, send them off with a smile and encouragement. They need to know that they are going to be okay and that you are okay. And here's the best news of all ... while you may not be able to celebrate on the 25th, plan a second day of Christmas. It's pretty certain you won't hear many objections to that!

Take care of you.   This can be a tough time emotionally, especially if it's the first time. Remember that what you are feeling is normal! First and foremost, don't isolate yourself. Do seek the love and support of those who care about you. Surround yourself with people who understand. Spend the day doing something meaningful. Sometimes when you're feeling sad and alone, the best medicine is helping others. Seeing the joy and appreciation of those in need can feel quite awesome.

There is great comfort in acceptance.   No one is asking you to like the situation, but accepting it comes easier when you don't fight it or judge your feelings. Of course you're sad and missing what was, even if what was wasn't so good. That's normal. Moving through feelings like sadness and disappointment rather than fighting them makes them less relevant. And it opens space for gratitude and appreciation for those gifts that you do possess -- like strength, courage, and resilience. Take time to appreciate you and all that you have to offer the world.

However you decide to spend the day, just make it your goal to move through it. This might mean just going through the motions and being very grateful that you made it through; but then again ... you might find that it turned out to be a more enjoyable experience than you imagined.