The first major holiday or family celebration after a divorce can cause a lot of stress-which is probably an understatement. Everything feels different; nobody is quite sure what to do or say. It can’t help being awkward, no matter how long you were married. But for your children, it’s likely even more difficult and painful. None of this was their choice, and they’re bombarded with images of “perfect families” wherever they turn. (So are you, no doubt.) So how do you help them get through the holiday season?
Keep their needs in focus
First, as hard as it is, forget about yourself and your own discomfort. Focus on your children. What do they want and need from you over the holidays? Is it simply spending time together? If so, disregard everything else – within reason.
Are there special traditions your kids need in order for it to “feel like” Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah? Do they have activities that are important to them? They may be feeling like they’re giving up a lot by spending the holiday with only one parent at a time-they could be missing the other, without being able to express those feelings.
Try to pick up on any emotional behavior and put it into context, rather than pushing them to act a certain way or “put on a happy face.” Talk to them and find out what matters, then do your best to meet their requests. (And that doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money, take big vacations or bear gifts at all times.)
It’s okay to be on your own
If you are seeing somebody new, that doesn’t mean he or she needs to be included in the time with your children over the holidays. Doing so could feel forced, and your kids could feel pushed into accepting something they’re not ready for. It may also make your kids feel less important, and that’s the last thing you want to do right now. Don’t risk hurting their feelings. The kids need to outrank everybody else right now.
Start new traditions together
What will yours be? If you can, try to make this an exciting time as well as a difficult one. If your children are young, think of a new tradition they’d enjoy and make sure to do it every year from now on, giving them a new sense of security. If the kids are older, involve them in the decision. If they’re pre-teens or teens, they may push back, but keep trying-they may act like they don’t care, but they do.
Lastly, if you and your ex are on good terms, consider getting everyone together for a family tradition. Set reasonable expectations: don’t schedule a whole day, or go overboard with plans. This year will be the first step in your new relationship as divorced parents, so keep it simple and you’ll succeed.