The holidays can be a stressful time for everyone, even more so after divorce or separation. Memories of the past can bring up difficult emotions for both parents and children as they cope with the changes in their family. While the holiday season may feel different, planning and concerted efforts can help your child have a positive experience during these times.
There are four things to consider when navigating the holidays:
Engage your child
Your first question when making decisions about what to do with your children over the holidays should be what is best for your child. The holidays can be a magical time for children and by including them in the planning, you can help them regain a sense of balance and even create new traditions. This doesn’t have to include something extravagant. Simple tasks as decorating cookies, creating holiday-themed art or even volunteering to help others can help create family time and special moments beyond the traditional holiday experiences.
Have a plan
Planning how you spend the holidays is best done early. Communicate with your former partner before the regular stress of the holidays begins and keeping in mind the feedback shared by your children and an eye to family traditions. –Coordinating days, drop-offs and specific plans that include what children should pack or any extras they need to bring along can help create a calmer environment. Next, share those plans with your children and if possible, show a united front with your former partner to give your child a clear picture of what will take place and when. Knowing plans earlier than later allows plenty of time for your children to ask questions or talk with you about what they might be feeling.
If this is the first time your child will experience a holiday since your divorce or separation, make sure to communicate that it will feel different and can be more challenging for the child, but that you can still find joy together. Look for opportunities to highlight the differences that could be a different take on a tradition or whole create new traditions. Also consider focusing on the greater meaning of the holidays you are celebrating- together make a list of the things you are grateful for or participate in volunteer activity where the focus is helping others.
Maintain stability, decrease chaos
Stability and routine help alleviate anxiety for children and parents, alike. With holiday plans in place, it will allow for consistency in daily routines, even amid the bustle of holiday planning, preparation and celebration. Try to continue as many traditions as possible. For example, if your family has favorite dishes at Thanksgiving, be sure to include them in your meal planning. Or, if your kids make holiday ornaments each year for the tree—keep that tradition alive This can help your child feel some sense of normalcy and ease the transition to the unfamiliar.
You control the stress level in the household. Children can sense tension. If you are spending your holidays worrying over your children’s enjoyment, it will be difficult for your child to relax. If you will not be with your child during part of the holiday, make plans and share those with your child. That way, they know you won’t be alone, sad or worried.
Finally, different doesn’t have to be sad. It is completely normal for you and your child to experience a variety of emotions that come with change. Be gentle on yourself and help support your child during this new life phase. Find new joys and start new traditions and give your child a voice in the decisions. Together you can have a happy holiday season.
With an eye to the best for our kids,
Michele Autenrieth Brown is the Vice President of Marketing and Development at Clarity Child Guidance Center. She became passionate mental health advocate after trying to navigate the system of care to support a family member. When she is not shuttling kids to practices or spending time with her husband, Michele is perfecting just what to say to get the perfect eye roll and sigh from her teen and pre-teen children.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).