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That First Holiday after the Divorce

It is possible that this will be your first holiday without your children. Most likely this is what you agreed to in the parenting plan part of your divorce, but that may not make that impending day(s) any easier. Regardless of financial or marital status we all experience stress around the holidays. Depending on how good the relationship between you and your ex is, children of divorce approach the holidays with feelings ranging from mild uncertainty to absolute dread. As parents, we must learn to focus on the children’s needs and try to put our own sadness aside. Of course, this does not mean denying or ignoring one’s own feelings, but rather learning to deal with them in a way that does not make things more difficult for the children.

The divorced or separated family is generally aware of the pain it has suffered and the holidays may magnify this pain. Reminiscing might be part of the holiday tradition, but instead make it about creating new traditions. Try not to show the children how sad you may be that they will not be at your table this year by assuring them that you have some place to go and that they will have a great time with their mother/father. It will be difficult for them to enjoy themselves if they are envisioning the absent parent alone and sad. The ability of the children to adjust not just to the holiday visitation schedule, but to the divorce in general, is directly affected by how well the parents have learned to adjust to their new roles as co-parents and ex-spouses.

Some families avoid splitting the holidays by alternating times for family meals and traditions. This may be what you and your ex have decided will work best for your family, but most likely alternating major holidays yearly is the plan, therefore it is important to prepare yourself and your children for how the holiday will play out. Perhaps, having a second celebration when your child returns or before she/he leaves will work for you. Remember holidays are about families and good feelings not the day the calendar dictates.

For young children, the decision of where and when to go should be decided by the parents. Having to choose to spend time with one parent, over the other is a tremendous burden for the child, which may result in the child feeling guilty. It also gives the child more power than is appropriate. Remember too that older children are not immune to the stress. Adult children who live on their own may still find it difficult to choose. Young adults returning home for the holidays have the additional stress of wanting to spend time with their friends. Try to make it easier for them by alternating holidays or creating new traditions. Once again, assure them that you will be fine.

Holidays, while fun and festive, can also be stressful. Adding a new divorce or separation to the season can further complicate things; dialing up emotions and ambivalence. Do your best to create and stick to the plan that you and your spouse have created. If there is difficulty in devising a plan, that will make it easier on all involved, particularly the children; consult a parenting coach, who can help you work through things and make the future for your family easier and brighter. None of this is meant to diminish how difficult it may be celebrating those first few holidays without your children, but finding ways to make it palatable and even joyful for yourself, is one that should not involve the children. Keeping busy and spending time with compassionate friends and other family members often helps.