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Divorce and the Holidays – Take Care of Yourself and Your Family

Holidays are a key time for family dispute resolution. Divorce is not fun, and nothing brings that home more than during family celebrations.

Holidays, birthdays, children’s milestones like graduation. They used to be filled with celebration. Now they may be filled with the added stress of managing visits, transportation, gifts, and all the details that are just a little harder when you and your spouse are separated.

On top of all that, you may be feeling extra lonely, exhausted, and frustrated. A bundle of emotions that certainly don’t feel like the joy we’re “supposed” to be feeling during the holidays.

Whether it’s your first holiday after your divorce or your fifth (or more), it’s not going to be easy. But like everything in life, it can get better with a little time and practice.

Focus on the Kids

This is critical. You may have fond holiday memories from your childhood. Make it a goal to provide your children with those same memories. Whether they’re opening presents with your ex-spouse, or enjoying a holiday meal with extended families, focusing on their happiness can raise your spirits.

  • Plan & Compromise – the best results in any family dispute resolution comes from a compromise with benefits for all parties. Alternating years, splitting the holidays, making arrangements to exchange the kids at times that work for all parties – these are key elements that should be planned prior to the holidays.
  • Coordinate giving – don’t make gift-giving into a competition over which parent gives more, or better, presents. If you can coordinate gifts – and stick to the agreement – you’ll both be happier. Arrange for big ticket presents to come from the two of you, or divvy up the list of must-have gifts. If you can be united in this way, it will provide stability for your entire family.
  • Don’t force it – if it doesn’t work, though, don’t force it. Some couples can manage holiday planning together, others cannot. If you can enjoy opening gifts or a family meal together over the holidays, by all means do it! But if you force it, hold back your anger, or put on a happy face over your sadness, your kids will know. It may be better to handle the holidays separately.
  • Step back – when problems arise, step back and take a deep breath if you can. Some aspects of family dispute resolution require immediate attention. Others can wait. Try not to spoil the holidays over a disagreement. Take the higher road, celebrate your choice, and handle the issue with couple’s mediation once the holidays are over.

Parents going through couple’s mediation know that a key focus of family dispute resolution is putting the children’s needs first. If you can both resolve to do this, the holidays can be easier to handle.

Focus on You

You need to be prepared that not everything will go your way. Or that your spouse may not take the high road like you. Or even that you may react poorly despite your best intentions to remain calm and collected.

There’s also a lot of sadness and loneliness around the holidays. Especially if your children are with your ex, and you are missing the traditions you built in your years together. Planning something special for yourself can raise your spirits. If you know you are going to be alone during all or part of the holiday, plan ahead. You may be without your kids, but you don’t have to be lonely.

  • Set aside some “me” time – schedule a massage, take a long bath, finish a project around the house, journal, read a book. It doesn’t have to be a huge step. Just something that makes you feel better.
  • Meet with friends and family – the best way to stave off loneliness is avoid being alone. At the same time try not to overschedule. That will make you feel frantic and exhausted by the end of the holiday break.
  • Have a script ready – if it’s the first holiday after your divorce, a lot of well-meaning friends and family may trigger your emotions simply by asking how you’re doing, or how you’re “holding up”. Be prepared for these questions with some practiced, ready answers. This helps you avoid feeling on the spot and will be less likely to dredge up negative emotions.

Always remember, you can’t control your ex or your children’s reactions, but you can work on yours, and can work on your own sense of happiness and well-being.

Look Forward, not Backwards

A big part of sadness around the holidays is missing what used to be. Focusing on past happiness and regretting what has been lost is something we all do. Remind yourself that you can’t change the past.

What you can do is create new traditions. Cleaning out your old traditions can be as refreshing and invigorating as cleaning out your closet. You get rid of the old and make room for the new.

Keep traditions that really matter, then get ideas from your kids on fun, new ways to celebrate the holidays. Throw out the old decorations and make new ones. Make volunteering a part of your holiday tradition.  Changing the holiday script helps us let go of the old and bring in the new. And focusing on a happier future can be just the ticket you need to help you and your entire family move forward.

To help with family dispute resolution, holiday schedules should be considered as part of a Parenting Agreement and discussed during family mediation sessions. The Kelly D. Jordan Family Law Firm provides family law mediation services, can prepare separation agreements and help you file for divorce. If you need help, contact us today.